Tens of thousands rally in 9th straight week of protests against judicial shakeup

Demonstrations being held at 95 locations across country; former Likud minister to speak at main event in Tel Aviv; actors cancel ‘Rent’ performance so they can join

Israelis demonstrate outside a hair salon in Tel Aviv where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara Netanyahu was, on March 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israelis demonstrate outside a hair salon in Tel Aviv where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara Netanyahu was, on March 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets on Saturday night across the country, in the ninth consecutive week of protests against the government’s efforts to radically overhaul the judicial system.

The main event began at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center at 6 p.m. with a march toward Kaplan Street.

Police closed off a number of Tel Aviv streets starting at 5 p.m.

Smaller rallies  being held in at least 95 different locations across the country, including in Jerusalem, Ashdod, Haifa, Beersheba, Efrat, Netanya, Kfar Saba, Herzliya, Beit Shemesh, and Bat Yam.

The main speaker at the Tel Aviv protest will be former Likud minister Limor Livnat, and former Labor minister Yuli Tamir will be the headliner at the Jerusalem protest outside the president’s official residence.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli will speak at the Haifa rally along with former Supreme Court justice Ayala Procaccia and former Meretz MK Gaby Lasky. Opposition chief Yair Lapid and retired judge Hila Gerstel will speak at the Herzliya rally.

Then-Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat (left) talks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a vote on a bill to dissolve the parliament in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on December 8, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Joining in the protests Saturday were actors at the Enav Cultural Center in Tel Aviv. In a post on its Facebook page, the center announced that a scheduled performance of the “Rent” musical for Saturday night was canceled.

“We, the cast of Rent, which is performing at the Enav Center, have decided to pay a heavy price and cancel the show in order to go and demonstrate for democracy,” said Itamar Elbaz, one of the actors, according to Channel 12 news.

Police conduct will be watched during Saturday’s rallies. The force came under criticism this week for its rough treatment of protesters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, including for an officer who hurled a stun grenade into a crowd of people. The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department has opened a probe into the incident.

Ahead of Saturday’s rallies, Shahar Mor, the protester whose ear was mangled by one such grenade during Wednesday’s demonstrations, accused police of brutality and hooliganism.

Speaking to Walla news from Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv where he was still being treated, Mor said he had been far from clashes and violence when he was hit by the grenade.

“I was sure I’d been shot. I was stunned… It exploded right on my skull. Police behaved brutally, with disdain for human lives,” he said. “It smashed my ear. It could have exploded in my eye. I got off easy. Next to me was a mother and her 14-year-old daughter. How can you hurl a grenade into a crowd?”

He added: “The commanding officer there behaved like a barbarian, a hooligan, throwing grenades at people who weren’t being violent… Police do this all the time, I was just filmed.”

The weekly protests started shortly after Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced the proposals to curtail Israel’s judiciary.

Critics say the proposed overhaul will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances, and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters say it is a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Friday told police to crack down further on anti-government demonstrators, after mass protests on Wednesday saw the use of stun grenades and mounted officers against the anti-government protests for the first time.

Police use stun grenades during a demonstration against the government’s controversial justice reform bill, in Tel Aviv on March 1, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Ben Gvir sent a letter to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, telling the top officer to have Tel Aviv police deal strictly with protesters who attempt to block roads.

The far-right minister also praised the police’s handling of demonstrators during Wednesday’s nationwide “day of disruption” protest events, and expressed support for officers who were injured, without mentioning demonstrators who got hurt.

Police will send additional forces to the central protest areas this week, with around 1,000 total officers for the main Tel Aviv march, and will also deploy more resources for documenting the demonstrators to gather evidence that can be used for arrests, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Police face demonstrators protesting against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Police said Wednesday’s protesters became violent when officers sought to prevent them from continuing to block roads, forcing the use of more extreme measures. Demonstrators rejected the charge, insisting that police were the ones acting with disproportionate violence in what led to the hospitalization of 11 protesters.

Dozens were arrested at the protest but later released.

The mass Wednesday protests came as the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved for its first reading in the Knesset plenum a government-backed bill to radically restrict the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation, amid opposition outrage directed at committee chair MK Simcha Rothman for his management of the process.

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