ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Banner denigrates Biden; protester carries Confederate flag

‘They’re stealing the election’: Thousands attend Tel Aviv rally backing overhaul

10 arrested for blocking main highway; Demonstrators carry signs reading ‘I’m a second-class citizen,’ some chant ‘Arabs are whores,’ ‘may your village burn,’ ‘Kahane lives on’

Right-wing Israelis attend a rally in support of the government's judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Right-wing Israelis attend a rally in support of the government's judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Waving Israeli and Likud flags, some 20,000 protesters marched in support of the government’s judicial overhaul plans in Tel Aviv on Thursday, the second such rally since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paused the judicial legislation earlier this week amid growing public pressure.

The right-wing Im Tirtzu organization organized the “March for Freedom” in the heart of the city, with the aim of “being freed from the restraints of the High Court,” and proclaimed that the “people have chosen judicial reform.” Several government ministers urged their supporters to attend the event.

Many protesters at the Tel Aviv rally carried signs declaring “I’m a second-class citizen,” and “They’re stealing the election,” as they marched from the Tel Aviv Museum to Kaplan Street.

Others held signs emblazoned with slogans such as “I believe Rothman and Levin” — two of the overhaul’s political architects, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chair Simcha Rothman.

Some demonstrators then marched onto Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway, blocking traffic, employing a tactic used by anti-overhaul protesters over the past few months. Police said a large number of officers were on the scene. Some 10 people were detained in clashes, and the highway was eventually reopened.

Earlier in the rally, some protesters surrounded reporter Moti Kastel of Now 14, a channel considered favorable to the Likud, with some cheering his name.

Several chanted, “The people demand judicial reform” and “Bibi king of Israel,” using the prime minister’s nickname, for Kastel’s broadcast.

Many pro-government activists are unhappy that Netanyahu halted the progress of the judicial overhaul legislation for talks with the opposition, believing that the democratically elected government should not have to compromise.

Uri, a 33-year-old from Tel Aviv, told The Times of Israel he wrote the slogan “I’m a second-class citizen” on his banner because he felt that his vote was being stymied by a leftist court.

He declined to share his last name because he was “afraid to be fired because it’s not acceptable to have the point of view that I have.”

“Democratic results don’t matter, because the judicial system overrules the democratic process, they have too much power,” he charged. “The results of the elections literally don’t matter.”

Uri claimed a link between judicial activism and the prime minister’s ongoing corruption trial, saying: “There have been cases against Benjamin Netanyahu that are totally fake, they charge him with allegations to overrule the elections.”

“You cannot overrule democracy with fake accusations.”

Protesters carry a banner reading ‘the people chose judicial reform’ at a rally in support of the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Using a megaphone, one protester said, “We are Golani, we are Paratroopers, are we not as valuable as pilots?” A key point of pressure on the government in recent weeks has been the warnings by growing numbers of reserve pilots that they would not report for training sessions if the coalition’s plans continued.

Others — many with their faces covered — shouted slogans against Arabs, including “May your village burn,” “Arabs are whores, Jews are sweethearts,” and “Kahane lives on” — a reference to the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.

Dozens were also filmed harassing and chasing after journalists, as pro-overhaul demonstrators did in their previous protest last week.

Some rally-goers held up a banner denigrating US President Joe Biden, who expressed his worries about the overhaul on Tuesday.

One man carried a Confederate flag.

The leaders of the reservist pilots’ protest announced Tuesday that they would resume training and operational activity after the controversial legislative plan was paused, but indicated that they were remaining alert in case it was revived.

Likud MK Tally Gotliv, who was at the protest, praised it as a “display of tremendous power of right-wingers with values, who love the country.”

“I want to remind Knesset members on the right of their duty to pass the judicial reform. We owe it to those who gave us this power. We will pass the reform, we will not fall prey to extortion by threats from the opposition or the radical left. We came to govern and that’s what we’ll do,” she told demonstrators.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said in a statement that the demonstrations were “important for democracy” and urged demonstrators to refrain from violence.

“I trust the police commissioner to direct the police in accordance with the minister’s policy — equal treatment for all,” he said.

Ben Gvir has been a vocal critic of the police’s handling of the anti-overhaul protests, calling for officers to use harsher measures against demonstrators, and has sought greater direct control of the force since becoming national security minister. He has railed against anti-overhaul protesters who block roads as “anarchists.”

Protesters block the Ayalon highway during a rally in support of the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Before the rally, some members of WhatsApp groups organizing the events issued disturbing calls to violence and plans to attack both anti-government activists and journalists.

“Today we’re going to fuck them up and nobody will stop us… we have to shut their mouths,” wrote one group member on Thursday afternoon, after claiming that the left “incites to murder and hatred against us, the right wing.”

On Thursday, Im Tirtzu called on participants to heed instructions from security officials and “not to bring signs or make calls that incite violence.”

The rally follows a large pro-government demonstration in Jerusalem on Monday, in which some extremist protesters attacked journalists as well as an Arab cab driver.

Among the pro-overhaul protesters in Jerusalem were dozens of members of the extremist right-wing La Familia group, some of whom were filmed attacking Arab passersby. Members of the group were also blamed for other reported assaults. The ultra-nationalist La Familia is nominally a fan club of Jerusalem’s Beitar soccer team, though the team has repeatedly distanced itself from the organization due to its racist rhetoric and violent antics. Security officials have previously called for it to be outlawed as a terrorist organization.

Weekly mass protests have been held for nearly three months against the planned legislation, which critics say will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.

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