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Thousands set to to take part in 18th week of anti-government protests

Organizers urge opposition politicians to abandon compromise talks, calling them a ‘plot’ by Netanyahu to stall for time; negotiations said deadlocked over selection of judges

Israelis block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israelis block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Protesters opposed to the government’s judicial overhaul were set to hold demonstrations around the country on Saturday night for the 18th consecutive week, as they sought to keep up pressure on the government.

The judicial overhaul has been put on hold while the government holds negotiations with the opposition.

However, organizers are also pressuring opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz to end their participation in the talks, saying that the discussions being hosted by President Isaac Herzog were “a plot by [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to waste time in order to pass a budget.”

“The statements of the coalition members at the right-wing demonstration and since the return of the Knesset from recess leave no room for doubt: Anyone with common sense understands that Netanyahu does not want and cannot reach an agreement on an independent committee to select judges,” the organizers said.

“The sword of the dictatorship has not been removed when the legislation is prepared and waiting to turn Israel into a messianic and dangerous dictatorship,” they said urging the public to join the protests.

Among those set to speak at Saturday night’s main protest in Tel Aviv were former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, protest leader Shikma Bressler, attorney Nava Rozolyo, one of the movement’s central activists, and Moshe Radman, a leading hi-tech entrepreneur.

Saturday night’s protests come after organizers held a “day of equality” on Thursday that saw protesters carry out acts of civil disobedience, including blocking major highways, around the country.

Israeli women dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale television show protest against disadvantages for women in the state rabbinical courts and against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, outside the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court, May 4, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Activists also staged demonstrations outside the homes of prominent cabinet ministers as well as offices of state religious institutions.

Diverse demonstrations and events were used to drive home various arguments against the judicial overhaul, with cabinet ministers depicted as babies, blood-spattered mannequins representing murdered Israelis, protesters in “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes marching for women’s rights, and a civil marriage staged outside the Tel Aviv rabbinate.

Although the coalition’s legislative program to remake the legal and judicial system is currently on hold, organizers are seeking to prevent a decline in the fervor of the protests, fearing the coalition could resume legislation at any moment.

Channel 13 reported on Friday that despite some progress in the talks hosted by Herzog, the sides remain completely deadlocked on the central issue of the Judicial Selection Committee.

The coalition is insisting that it retain control of appointments, while the opposition is adamantly opposed to any changes that give political control to the selection of judges.

Under the current bill put forward by the government, the coalition has an automatic majority for the first two Supreme Court justice appointments in any Knesset term. Combined with the coalition’s intention to select the next top court president — who will also sit on the panel — the coalition will have influence over enough members of the committee to control any court appointment.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and other justices at a hearing of the High Court of Justice on petitions against the appointment of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as a minister due to his recent conviction for tax offenses, January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The opposition wants to keep the status quo, under which the Judicial Selection Committee’s nine-member panel appoints Supreme Court justices through a seven-vote majority and lower court judges through a simple majority of five. Three coalition politicians, one opposition MK, three Supreme Court justices, and two Israel Bar Association members sit on the panel, meaning that compromise between political and professional representatives is required to tap a Supreme Court justice.

Critics attack the change as politicizing the judiciary, and they charge it will undermine judicial independence if judges can trace their seats to certain political camps.

The government’s planned judicial overhaul has sparked widespread opposition across Israel, with senior legal, security, and economic figures warning the move will undermine democracy by removing the system of checks and balances and as such will harm the country’s security and economy.

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