Thursday's day of action set to have a 'different character'

‘Step up the pressure’: Demonstrators prepare for 11th week of escalating protests

Tel Aviv anti-overhaul rally to kick off with national anthem sung by teen girl whose performance was nixed over ultra-Orthodox man in audience; ex-Bank of Israel chief to speak

Demonstrators block a highway during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 16, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Demonstrators block a highway during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 16, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The escalating mass protests against the government’s efforts to shackle the judiciary are set to continue on Saturday night with rallies planned for Tel Aviv and dozens of other locations around the country.

The demonstrations will mark the 11th consecutive weekend protest since Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced the plan to strip power from the country’s courts to the benefit of the ruling coalition, setting off a fierce backlash from opponents who believe the move will fundamentally alter Israel’s democratic system by removing the only real check on unfettered majority rule.

Recent weeks have seen the rallies swell as the government plowed ahead with the legislation, including this week, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers immediately slapped down President Isaac Herzog’s proposal for an alternative judicial reform.

Opposition leaders, however, have rallied behind the president’s plan, calling the proposal workable but not ideal.

In his announcement, Herzog warned that the country was teetering at the edge of an abyss and risked descending into civil war.

Protest organizers planned Saturday’s main rally to “step up pressure,” beginning with a 6 p.m. march from Kikar Dizengoff to the central demonstration on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street at 7 p.m.

Undated photo of Eliyana Hayut. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The main rally will begin with a rendition of the national anthem, by 13-year-old Eliyana Hayut, who was told this week she couldn’t sing in a show at the Merom HaGalil Regional Council because it would offend an ultra-Orthodox man in the audience.

Former Bank of Israel chief Jacob Frenkel will give one of the speeches at the central demonstration, organizers said. Frenkel is a leading economist who headed the Bank of Israel from 1991 to 2000 and until recently chaired JP Morgan Chase International.

Former Bank of Israel governor Jacob Frenkel, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 24, 2013. (Miriam Alster / Flash90)

Smaller demonstrations to “save democracy” will take place at around 120 other locations around the country, including in Or Akiva for the first time.

Police are expected to begin to close roads in Tel Aviv from the late afternoon.

“Together we will win,” an announcement for the demonstrations said.

Thursday will be another day of national action to protest the overhaul.

An unnamed leader of the protest movement told the Ynet news site that the day would have a “different character” to previous events, and would not focus on transport routes.

However, protesters are expected to try to block Netanyahu from reaching Ben Gurion International Airport for a flight to London on Thursday. Earlier this month, Netanyahu was forced to take a helicopter to the airport for a trip to Rome while demonstrators jammed the roads.

The premier is likely to face demonstrations in the British capital, similar to those seen during his recent trips to Rome and Berlin.

Some demonstrators have adopted creative means to express their opposition, including by dressing as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” taking to the sea, painting city streets red and setting up a mock “army recruitment center” in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.

Protesters supporting women’s rights dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale TV series traveling to a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government to overhaul the judicial system, at a railway station in Jerusalem, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

In addition to the public protests, IDF reservists have increasingly expressed doubt about their continued service, or said they will stop showing up, due to the government’s plans.

Hundreds of elite reservists on Thursday announced they will halt their volunteer service starting Sunday in protest.

Last week’s Saturday night protests drew an estimated 300,000 participants and on Thursday protesters staged nationwide demonstrations as part of “escalating resistance to dictatorship.”

Israelis protesting against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system block the main freeway in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The government’s plan, as it stands, will allow the Knesset to override court decisions with the barest majority, preemptively shield laws from judicial oversight altogether, and put the selection of all judges in the hands of coalition politicians.

Opponents argue it will drastically weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters call it a much-needed reform to rein in an over-activist court.

The overhaul plans have drawn intense public criticism and fierce opposition across Israel, sparking mass protests and dire warnings from economists, legal professionals, academics and security officials. Protesters have been pouring into the streets since January in multiple days of “disruption” and “resistance.”

A number of polls have indicated the legislation is broadly unpopular with the public.

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