Tens of thousands of protesters to rally in Jerusalem against judicial overhaul plan

Police to close streets to traffic in areas surrounding Knesset, where demonstrators are set to gather midday

Workers from the high-tech sector protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, in Tel Aviv, on February 7, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Workers from the high-tech sector protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, in Tel Aviv, on February 7, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of demonstrators are expected to rally in Jerusalem on Monday to protest against the government’s plans to impose radical, sweeping changes to the judiciary, as opposition to the coalition’s contentious moves ramps up.

Police will begin closing main streets around the Knesset to traffic on Monday morning, ahead of the mass rally expected around midday when the coalition is due to begin advancing bills on parts of the overhaul. Channel 12 reported Monday that police officers are also preparing for the possibility that demonstrators will try to block roads inside the city leading to the Israeli parliament as well as the highway to the capital, as part of the protest.

Police expect significant traffic disruption in the capital on Monday, according to the report.

Hundreds of tech startups, law firms and other private sector companies are allowing their employees to join a large-scale strike on Monday against the judicial overhaul plans, which aim to dramatically weaken the High Court of Justice and secure political control over judicial appointments, among other measures.

In addition, thousands of doctors and mental health professionals are expected to join the strike. For now, the Histadrut Labor Federation representing public sector unions does not intend to join the protest.

Concurrent protests in other cities on Monday will coincide with the first expected rounds of committee voting on the legislation. The coalition indicated late Sunday that it would not delay Monday’s committee votes on advancing some of the bills that make up the government’s plan, but would wait a week before bringing them to a first vote in the plenum — instead of doing so immediately.

This came after President Isaac Herzog issued a rare plea for deliberation and compromise on the plan and offered a five-point proposal for negotiations on the judicial shakeup.

A woman watches President Issac Herzog speech on the proposed changes to the legal system, at a home in Kibbutz Mishmar David, February 12, 2023. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In his televised address on Sunday, Herzog said the country was on the verge of “societal and constitutional collapse,” and implored citizens on both sides of the political aisle to refrain from violence, “all the more so violence against public servants and elected officials.”

The president said he was deeply concerned over the nature of the government’s reforms, stating that he worried they had the potential to harm “the democratic foundations” of the country, but said that “change” and “reform” were nevertheless legitimate pursuits. He proposed a five-point plan as an outline for a compromise agreement over the contentious shakeup agenda, while urging the coalition not to move ahead with the legislative process.

Herzog’s proposal was welcomed by the opposition and others, but some Likud lawmakers rejected the call for delay.

Leaders of the protest on Monday, led by the tech industry, said they hoped to “send a message, loud and clear, that Israel’s fragile democratic fabric must be protected.

“The high-tech sector in Israel is a proven global miracle. It is made up of companies that were founded and built up over decades, with enormous efforts and huge financial investments. This is the sector that is responsible for most of the country’s economic strength and generates the most hope for the Israeli economy now and into the future,” they wrote.

Workers from the high-tech sector protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, in Tel Aviv, on February 7, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Among the almost 300 tech companies and venture capital funds that have already expressed support for their workers to join the strike are Payoneer, Pitango, Kaltura, Lemonade, Riskified, Wiz, Fireblocks, Appsflyer, Similarweb, IronSource, Natural Intelligence, Plantish, TLV Partners, Econcrete, Team8, Ultrasight, Algosec, Qumra Capital, Vertex Ventures, and Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP).

According to the leaders of the tech workers’ protest, more than 45 buses will be taking employees from Tel Aviv, Rehovot, Beersheba, Nahariya, and other locations to the protest in Jerusalem on Monday.

The planned private sector strike comes after a sixth successive Saturday night of demonstrations saw what organizers claimed were 145,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv, with another 83,000 in other areas across the country. Police did not provide an estimate of the turnout.

Protesters fill Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street as they rally against controversial plans to weaken the judiciary, on February 11, 2023 (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The legal overhaul, advanced by Justice Minister Yariv Levin and backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would grant the government total control over the appointment of judges, including to the High Court, severely limit the High Court’s ability to strike down legislation, and enable the Knesset to re-legislate laws the court does manage to annul with a majority of just 61 MKs.

Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms would undermine Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

Netanyahu and other coalition members have dismissed the criticism.

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