Israel’s 26th weekend of nationwide protests against the government’s efforts to shake up the judiciary drew thousands to rallies across the country as the coalition moved forward with its plan to limit judicial oversight of government decisions.
Police had expected an increased turnout, as negotiations between the coalition and opposition have collapsed and the fight over the judicial overhaul has begun to heat up once more.
The main demonstration was, as usual, held on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street. Channel 13 partner Crowd Solutions estimated some 130,000 participants while organizers put the number at some 150,000. Nationwide, the organizers claimed a turnout of some 286,000.
Even before the Tel Aviv rally officially began, some protesters descended to the nearby Ayalon Highway and briefly blocked southbound traffic near HaShalom Interchange. While clearing the road, police arrested two people for disrupting public order.
After the rally protesters again blocked the highway, this time the northbound section.
Another protester was arrested for allegedly attacking other demonstrators during a scuffle, police said. Footage published online showed members of the Brothers and Sisters in Arms protest group, representing IDF veterans, clashing with a block of protesters who were decrying Israel’s decades-long military rule of the West Bank, with a member of the latter group being arrested.
After members of “Brothers In Arms” attacked the anti occupation block, the police chose to arrest one of the activists from the block pic.twitter.com/mOaEL6q0Wd
— Oren Ziv (@OrenZiv_) July 1, 2023
The central protest was addressed by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai; Moran Zer Katzenstein, the leader of the women’s protest movement who was detained by police on Thursday; and by tech entrepreneur and protest leader Moshe Radman. The event was hosted by anti-overhaul activist and journalist Or-ly Barlev.
Huldai used his speech to rail against government moves related to religion and state, including far-right MK Avi Maoz of the ultraconservative anti-LGBTQ party Noam being given control over extracurricular school programs.
“You won’t dictate to us what Judaism is and how we must live it. Your Judaism isn’t our Judaism. You forgot what it is to be Jews in Huwara and Umm Safa,” Huldai said, referring to two Palestinian villages in the West Bank that have been the sites of riots by extremist settlers after terror attacks.
“You forgot what it is to be Jews by avoiding taking part in the [national military burden]. You forgot what it is to be Jews by persecuting the LGBTQ community,” he said, noting the low military enlistment rate in the Haredi community.
He was also paraphrasing a well-known, much-maligned hot mic comment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1997 that “the left forgot what it means to be Jews.”
Protests were also held in some 150 other locations around the country, including more than 1,000 near the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
At the Jerusalem protest, Rabbi Shlomo Brin, of the Har Etzion Yeshiva at Alon Shvut, condemned the settler attacks on innocent Palestinians as a “moral stain” on Israel.
He also declared that winning the election did not give the coalition the right to change Israel’s democratic nature.
“There may be areas” in which the judicial system needs reform, he said, but that must be achieved “only by wide agreement… We will fight for our path and listen to the other side,” he said. “Not with hatred and not with violence,” he urged. “With love, we will succeed. With love, we will win.”
Speaking at a demonstration in Raanana, opposition chief Yair Lapid denied as “complete lies” coalition claims that agreements had been reached on some issues during the compromise talks held for several months with President Isaac Herzog’s mediation.
Meanwhile Saturday, 270 academic staff members of the Weizmann Institute signed a public declaration supporting the demonstrations against the overhaul, saying: “As long as this gun is pointed against the public, we will continue protesting against the government in any legal way possible. As long as you continue to fight against the public you’re supposed to serve, you will be greeted with hostility by the public.”
In a statement ahead of the rallies, protest organizers cited moves by Netanyahu’s hardline coalition to limit demonstrations near lawmakers’ homes, and calls by ministers for more arrests and prosecutions of those who block roads and the airport.
“[The government] intends to limit freedom of expression along with our right to protest, and we are seeing police action being taken against prominent protesters who oppose the regime,” the statement read.
“All these steps are ones seen only under dictatorial regimes. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt to anyone who was still uncertain, that Israel is in the midst of an attempted regime coup of the worst kind,” protest leaders said.
“Now is the time to come out and resist in every legal and nonviolent way possible,” the statement read.
In addition to the detention of a number of prominent protesters this week, it was reported that an official task force set up by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir will investigate if former prime minister Ehud Barak and ex-Meretz MK Yair Golan can be charged with incitement for comments urging protests, including by illegal means.
While protesters somewhat lowered the flames over the past few months as the judicial overhaul legislation was paused, organizers said that now that the government has begun moving ahead in the Knesset with certain elements of the plan, they are renewing efforts.
Protesters were also gearing up to demonstrate outside Ben Gurion Airport’s main terminal next week.
Organizers called on protesters to drive in convoys and gather outside Ben Gurion Airport’s Terminal 3 at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.
They said that the airport had been chosen as a venue for the protest as it “symbolizes that Israel is a flourishing liberal and democratic nation.”
With schools finished for the year, the airport is expected to see increased traffic as families head out for summer vacations.
Protest organizers said they did not wish to disrupt the plans of travelers, warning them to avoid arriving at the airfield by car, and instead to take the train. Participants were asked to try to prevent any impediment to the public seeking to reach the airport, and to block only the sidewalk outside the terminal rather than any roads.
Netanyahu, who earlier this year was forced to take a helicopter to the airport to catch a flight abroad because demonstrators were blocking the roads, this week blasted the legal authorities for not prosecuting demonstrators who block access to the airport.
The protests were ramped up as the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened for deliberations on a bill to block justices from exercising judicial review over the “reasonableness” of government decisions.
Coalition figures have vowed to pass such legislation before the Knesset summer recess at the end of the month.
And Netanyahu has stated that his government will also move later on to reshape the powerful Judicial Selection Committee, though he has added this will take a different shape than Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s previous plan to assert full political control over the process.
On Friday, opponents of the government’s judicial overhaul rallied outside the homes of several ministers.
On Thursday, Netanyahu, Levin and Ben Gvir hit out at top law enforcement officials during a meeting to discuss the rallies outside the homes of coalition lawmakers.
The three accused Attorney General Baharav-Miara of negligence during a closed-door meeting to discuss protesters demonstrating outside the homes of coalition lawmakers, leaks from which were widely reported by Hebrew media.
Ben Gvir, who has been urging police to deal more forcefully with protesters, demanded Baharav-Miara and State Prosecutor Amit Aisman present indictments filed against protesters in the past six months.
In addition, hundreds of military reservists — many in elite units — have said they will no longer volunteer for duty if the contentious overhaul is passed.