'We're determined to stop the madness, fight for our future'

‘This is an emergency’: Thousands of students rally against judicial makeover plan

Coordinated ‘strike’ held in over a dozen universities and colleges, with organizers vowing to fight ‘liquidation of the justice system’; counter-rallies back ‘fixing’ of judiciary

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, January 16, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, January 16, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Thousands of students in more than a dozen university and college campuses around the country held a one-hour coordinated “strike” Monday afternoon against the new government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary, in the continuation of mass demonstrations held over the last two weekends, which organizers aim to continue.

At 12:30 p.m., many students in Israel’s main academic institutions left classrooms and headed outside to protest against the hardline coalition’s plan to significantly weaken the High Court, allow the Knesset to enact legislation that the court has struck down, have the coalition control judges’ appointments and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers.

Other students in some institutions held counter-rallies, organized by the right-wing Im Tirtzu group, in support of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s deeply controversial sweeping reform plans.

The rallies were held at the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, University of Haifa, Bar Ilan University, Ben Gurion University, Reichman University, the Technion and others. Many of the institutions formally or informally allowed students to participate in the demonstrations, initiated by a new organization named the Student Protest, which describes itself as a nonpartisan group fighting for democracy.

The group said in a statement that the rallies were the start of “a long, determined and uncompromising battle against regime change” that will entail more protest actions inside and outside campuses.

“We students are unwilling to stay silent in light of the dangerous liquidation of the justice system. This is a fight for our future against a government that in the name of the tyranny of the majority is threatening to trample democracy and later, without restraint, to harm equality and the liberties of many groups in Israel’s population. We are determined to stop this madness, and this is just the beginning,” it added.

Students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, January 16, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Hundreds of students protested against the government’s plan at the Hebrew University, with a small number of them waving Palestinian flags in protest of Israel’s military rule in the West Bank.

MK Yorai Lahav-Hertzano of the opposition Yesh Atid party arrived at the rally to offer his support: “I think young Israelis understand that their future is in danger and that destroying democracy is going to destroy their future.”

Students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, January 16, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Hundreds attended similar rallies at Tel Aviv University, including lecturers, with several counter-protesters branding former chief justice Aharon Barak — whose expansion of judicial oversight in the 1990s they want to cancel — a “judicial dictator.”

“It is known around the world that students are waking up. Nobody can stop them,” law professor Issi Rosen-Zvi said at the protest. “You are our strength, our future. Nobody is more important than you in the battle for democracy. I’m used to only speaking publicly in the classroom, but this is an emergency.”

Similar protests were attended by over 100 people at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, where Yesh Atid MK Yasmin Sacks-Friedman said: “I came to support the students. It’s important that they be part of the struggle. We have no time to waste.”

Guy Popper, a student, told the Ynet news site: “The rule of the majority is not tyranny of the majority. Netanyahu and Levin’s reform endangers the rights of minorities who aren’t represented in the government. They need to be stopped.”

Supporters of the government plan to “fix the justice system” also held rallies at the Technion, the University of Haifa and Bar Ilan University. Im Tirtzu said they were demonstrating “in light of the calls and incitement to civil disobedience coming from elected officials, former senior judicial officials and students.”

“We won’t stand idly while public officials are calling for civil disobedience and citizens protest with flags of a terror group and liken the justice minister to a Nazi,” said Shai Rosengarten of Im Tirtzu, referring to the Palestinian flag and to Nazi imagery that appeared in a handful of banners in the first demonstration on January 7. “The elections are over. Most of the nation supports fixing the justice system; it’s time to move on and safeguard democracy in our country.”

Students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem hold a counter-demonstration in support of the government’s planned judicial overhaul, January 16, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

The National Student Union said it wasn’t joining any of the rallies, with union chairman Elchanan Felhimar saying the organization “represents all the students, many of whom supported the government.”

“Israel’s students aren’t in the pockets of any political party and therefore, in the current protests, the union as the representative of some 400,000 students in Israel will not pick a side and will not give in to political pressure by anyone,” he said.

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