Events held under banner of 'no dictatorship in our schools'

‘They dare accuse the IDF of working for terrorists’: 35th week of overhaul rallies

Some 100,000 protest against government in Tel Aviv after day of migrant rioting in city; attendees urged to donate blood to the injured

  • Protesters rally against the coalition's judicial overhaul legislation, in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Gitai Palti)
    Protesters rally against the coalition's judicial overhaul legislation, in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Gitai Palti)
  • Protesters rally against the coalition's judicial overhaul legislation in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Yael Gadot)
    Protesters rally against the coalition's judicial overhaul legislation in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Yael Gadot)
  • Protesters march against the coalition's judicial overhaul legislation in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (sha_b_p)
    Protesters march against the coalition's judicial overhaul legislation in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (sha_b_p)
  • 'The class is empty and the kids are under arrest': An installation from the Tel Aviv protests against the government, September 2, 2023 (Orna Naor)
    'The class is empty and the kids are under arrest': An installation from the Tel Aviv protests against the government, September 2, 2023 (Orna Naor)
  • Anti-judicial overhaul protest banners showing Education Minister Yoav Kisch (left) and Noam chair Avi Maoz, in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Amir Goldstein)
    Anti-judicial overhaul protest banners showing Education Minister Yoav Kisch (left) and Noam chair Avi Maoz, in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Amir Goldstein)
  • Protesters against the coalition's judicial overhaul rally in Haifa, September 2, 2023. (Dror Gilboa)
    Protesters against the coalition's judicial overhaul rally in Haifa, September 2, 2023. (Dror Gilboa)
  • Protesters against the coalition's judicial overhaul legislation march in the central city of Rehovot on September 2, 2023, carrying signs reading: "There is no education without democracy" (right) and "A lesson in democracy." (Roby Yahav)
    Protesters against the coalition's judicial overhaul legislation march in the central city of Rehovot on September 2, 2023, carrying signs reading: "There is no education without democracy" (right) and "A lesson in democracy." (Roby Yahav)
  • Protesters against the coalition's judicial overhaul march from Habima to Kaplan Street, flying Druze flags and Israeli flags in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Aviv Atlas)
    Protesters against the coalition's judicial overhaul march from Habima to Kaplan Street, flying Druze flags and Israeli flags in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Aviv Atlas)

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested throughout the country Saturday against the coalition’s judicial overhaul legislation for a 35th straight week, under the banner of “no dictatorship in our schools” as children begin the new school year.

Over 100,000 people were gathered at the main rally in Tel Aviv, according to Channel 13 news, which cited data from the CrowdSolutions firm.

Organizers had vowed that the event would go ahead following the violent clashes in southern Tel Aviv earlier between Eritrean migrants supporting and opposing the government in Asmara, which saw over 150 injured, including some 15 in serious condition. Around 30 policemen were hurt.

In her address to demonstrators, central protest organizer Shikma Bressler said police were “again paying the heavy price for the neglect of the Netanyahu government.”

She also said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was responsible for the ongoing migrant crisis, having reneged on a 2018 deal that would have seen many of them depart willingly, saying he did so because of pressure from “Kahanist racists.”

Attendees were urged to donate blood, as area hospitals warned they faced dangerous shortages amid the sudden influx of patients.

Protesters rally against the coalition’s judicial overhaul legislation in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Gitai Palti)

Other speakers vowed to champion education that promotes tolerance and democracy, in the face of a government they say represents the opposite. They also promised not to let the government undermine their children’s education with illiberal values.

Saturday’s rallies were held the day after the academic year began, and as Education Minister Yoav Kisch allegedly seeks to oust Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum director Dani Dayan and replace him with an ally from his Likud party.

One speaker in Tel Aviv was Yuli Yavin, a Herzliya high school student leading efforts to have materials removed from schools that were produced by the Kohelet Policy Forum, the right-wing group that played a key role in developing the government’s overhaul plans.

Protesters march against the coalition’s judicial overhaul legislation in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (sha_b_p)

Saturday’s rallies were also the first of a month that will see tensions within Israel come to a head as the High Court prepares to hear petitions touching on several key aspects of the judicial overhaul and the balance of power between the branches of government. Court decisions in favor of one or more of those petitions could lead to a direct confrontation between the executive and judicial branches and potentially even spark a constitutional crisis.

They also came on a week that saw a conservative Supreme Court justice launch an unprecedented challenge to the established seniority-based system for picking the next court president, submitting his candidacy for the role in a move he denied was coordinated with the government, but which aligns with Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s desire to see a conservative oversee the court.

In an unprecedented move Wednesday, Yosef Elron submitted his candidacy to take over from retiring Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, while preventing Judge Isaac Amit from inheriting the position under the customary — but not legislated — seniority method.

Avi Nissenkorn, a former justice minister, told protesters in Tel Aviv: “Our democracy is in danger.”

“It stands on the precipice of dictatorship. The safety and security net of democracy is you, the protest movement.”

Protesters rally against the coalition’s judicial overhaul legislation in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Yael Gadot)

“The existential danger to democracy exists. The forces in the government pushing for a messianic dictatorship are working ceaselessly, with zeal, through legislative initiatives and budget decisions to create a toxic public atmosphere and set the [country] on fire to strengthen its dark ideology,” he said.

Nissenkorn warned Justice Elron’s move challenges the independence of the court and “fits into the goal of political control” of the judiciary.

Protesters lit flares and blocked the Karkur Junction in northern Israel. In Haifa, thousands marched in the streets to the main rally at Horev Junction.

Speaking in Haifa, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni accused the government of “making reckless defense decisions that are endangering all of our lives for the benefit of the right-wing messianic base, which is not only acting wildly and violently in [the West Bank], but dares to accuse the IDF and the Shin Bet — who risk their lives daily for us — that they are working for the terrorists.”

“A prime minister who announced he will not give in to [the demands of] serving reservists is giving in with ease to Haredi draft dodgers and messianic extremists.”

In a statement ahead of the demonstrations, protest leaders referred to the High Court of Justice hearings in the coming weeks on petitions against amendments to two Basic Laws passed by the coalition and another motion aimed at forcing Justice Minister Yariv Levin to convene the Judicial Selection Committee.

“Just before the start of the series of discussions at the High Court on the fate of Israeli democracy, we are witnessing a combined attack by ministers on the state’s institutions,” protest leaders said in a statement.

“The education minister against Yad Vashem, the foreign minister is destroying the foreign relations of Israel and the justice minister is threatening the attorney general,” the statement read.

‘The class is empty and the kids are under arrest’: An installation from the Tel Aviv protests against the government, September 2, 2023. (Orna Naor)

Demonstrations were held at dozens of locations across the country. The Tel Aviv protest began with a march from Habima Square to the central rally at Kaplan Street at 8 p.m.

In the statement, protest leaders called Kisch the “worst education minister in history” after it was revealed this week that he was seeking to replace Dayan with former Likud MK Keren Barak, claiming there are irregularities in the way Yad Vashem is run. Dayan has strenuously denied the accusations.

However, Channel 12 news tied Kisch’s move to the Holocaust museum hosting singer Keren Peles on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The performance by Peles, who has spoken out against the government’s policies, reportedly angered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara. The premier’s office said the report was false.

In addition to the outcry over Kisch, earlier this year the government granted oversight over outside educational vendors in public schools to far-right MK Avi Maoz, who espouses racist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-pluralist and misogynist views.

Additionally, as the academic school year began on Friday, the education system faced a shortfall of thousands of teachers that has yet to be filled, creating severe problems in schools around the country.

With the branches of government set to see an unprecedented showdown as the High Court begins to hear petitions against the overhaul, protest organizers announced a march will take place September 7-9, beginning in the northern city of Safed and ending at Tel Hai. A second march will be held from four locations in the south, to Beersheba.

Tens of thousands of protesters joined a mass march to the Knesset in Jerusalem in July as part of a last-ditch effort to stop the coalition from passing a bill curtailing judicial oversight over its decisions. The legislation ultimately passed despite their efforts.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators wave Israeli flags as they march into Jerusalem on July 22, 2023, during a multi-day march that started in Tel Aviv to protest the government’s judicial overhaul legislation ahead of a vote on the first such law in the Knesset. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With the legislative push to weaken the judiciary on hold amid the Knesset’s summer recess, anti-government demonstrators have increasingly highlighted other grievances during recent protests, including recent incidents of discrimination against women, the sway religious parties hold on the ruling coalition, and now the education system.

Last week, protesters focused on surging violent crime in Arab communities, as the government faces increased criticism over its response to record homicide numbers.

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