Tens of thousands to rally Sat. night ahead of nationwide anti-overhaul strike Monday

Protest to be held in West Bank settlement for 1st time; demonstrators to march from Rothschild Boulevard to Kaplan Street at central Tel Aviv demonstration

Protesters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on February 4, 2023. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Protesters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on February 4, 2023. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of Israelis were expected to take to the streets in mass rallies on Saturday evening against the government’s legislative efforts to dramatically weaken the High Court of Justice and secure political control over judicial appointments.

A first reading of some of the controversial proposals is set for Monday; a bill must pass three readings to become law, and the coalition has indicated it seeks to blitz the legislation through the Knesset by April.

The central protest on Saturday is set to begin with a march from Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, with the main gathering to be held at Kaplan Street. Police have said that multiple roads will be blocked in the area.

Former justice minister Tzipi Livni said Saturday that she will be among the speakers at the event.

“Also this [week] I will fulfill my civic duty at Kaplan with the Israeli demonstrators [protesting] for the sake of the state,” Livni wrote on Twitter. “Tonight I will also speak on your behalf from the stage. Come. It is our duty to continue the struggle.”

Rallies are also set to take place in cities and towns across the country, including Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, Karmiel and Petah Tikva.

For the first time since the protests began, a demonstration will be held in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.

The mass rallies have been held on a weekly basis every Saturday night, as well as smaller protests by various sectors of society including military reservists, tech workers, parents, students, lawyers and medical workers. On Thursday night, hundreds protested outside the Jerusalem home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In addition, rallies have been held in cities across the United States, as well as in a number of European capitals.

Israelis protest against the plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government to overhaul the judicial system, in Jerusalem, February 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Protest leaders have called for a nationwide worker strike on Monday to coincide with the first rounds of voting on the legislation, an escalation in the demonstrations against the contentious proposals.

There will also be a mass rally outside the Knesset in Jerusalem at midday on Monday, as well as concurrent protests in other cities.

According to a poll aired by Channel 12 news on Friday, just one in four Israelis support the proposed overhaul legislation.

The poll showed that, asked if they supported stopping or postponing the process, 31% said it should be stopped altogether, 31% said it should be delayed to enable a dialogue over its content, 24% said it should continue and 14% said they didn’t know.

The poll also found that among voters for Netanyahu’s bloc of coalition parties, 42% supported stopping or delaying, while 45% said the process should go on.

Israeli military reservists protest against the plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government to overhaul the judicial system, as they block the freeway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, February 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The survey found significant backing for the nationwide strike, with 28% of respondents supporting the move though they will not strike themselves, 22% planning to strike and 31% opposing the action. Nineteen percent did not know.

Inside Netanyahu’s bloc, a somewhat surprising 27% backed the strike, while 56% opposed and 17% did not know.

There was no indication of how many people were polled, through which means, or the margin of error.

As presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the coalition’s proposals would severely restrict the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws and government decisions, with an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate struck-down laws with a bare majority of 61; give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

Thousands of Israeli protesters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on February 4, 2023. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

The government’s proposal has faced searing criticism from numerous top current and former jurists, including Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit said in an interview broadcast Thursday that the sweeping reform of the legal and judicial system would be “regime change” that would “eliminate the independence of Israel’s legal system from end to end.”

Mandelblit also accused Netanyahu of advancing the overhaul in order to bring his ongoing criminal trial to a premature end and insisted that he had been right to indict the premier despite the political instability that ensued.

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases where he faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in two cases, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the third. He denies wrongdoing and says the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution.

In response, far-right Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman called to jail Mandelblit for “incitement.” Rothman, who serves as chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, is a key architect of the reform and his call echoed those of other government members to jail critical opponents.

The plan has also come under severe criticism across the business sector in Israel and around the world, with tech professionals, money managers, and financial institutions warning that it can lead to a brain drain among professionals, the outflow of funds from Israel and a decline in investments from abroad. Former Bank of Israel governors have also warned of its detrimental effects.

Students and teachers protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on February 5, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s hardline coalition has prioritized the dramatic judicial restructuring that would increase government control over the judiciary.

Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact 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 has pushed back against the criticism.

Ahead of Monday’s first reading, the government plans to bring two other controversial pieces of legislation to a key Knesset committee on Sunday.

A legislative tool enabling the Knesset to pass laws that are not subject to judicial review, a key pillar of the overhaul, will be brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

The draft bill, proposed by Rothman, would allow the Knesset to pass legislation that would prevent the High Court of Justice from striking it down.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem, on January 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In addition, a law will be discussed to enable Shas leader Aryeh Deri to be appointed to a ministerial position, after the High Court of Justice ruled he could no longer hold ministerial office, will also be brought to a vote in the committee.

The High Court ruled last month that Deri’s appointment as interior and health minister was unreasonable in the extreme owing to his conviction in 2022 on two counts of tax fraud, and his 1999 conviction on bribery charges.

The court also determined that since Deri had given the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, which convicted him over the tax charges, the impression he was permanently retiring from political office in order to secure a plea bargain in that case, his appointment as minister could not be accepted due to the judicial principle of estoppel.

Should they be approved, the bills would then move to the Knesset for their preliminary hearings.

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