‘We will not be trampled on’: Protesters rally nationwide for 33rd straight week

Over 100k in Tel Aviv, with Israeli Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai leading singing of national anthem; Lapid: ‘Government attacked chief of staff because they hate the truth’

Protesters against the government's judicial overhaul legislation march in Tel Aviv on August 19, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Protesters against the government's judicial overhaul legislation march in Tel Aviv on August 19, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Protests against the government’s judicial overhaul were held throughout Israel on Saturday evening for the 33rd straight weekend.

Some 100,000 people took part in the main rally in Tel Aviv, Channel 13 reported, citing data from the CrowdSolutions firm.

Some protesters briefly blocked off the northbound route of Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway while carrying torches, but were dispersed by police.

Protest organizers in Tel Aviv had only women speak in light of recent incidents of discrimination against women throughout the country.

Speakers included top doctor Prof. Idit Matot, and Maj. (res.) Ora Peled Nakash, Israel’s first female officer on a naval vessel.

Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai sang the national anthem.

Netta Barzilai (fourth from right) attends a protest against the government’s judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on August 19, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“My parents come here every week, and there was no way I would leave them alone here. We hear every day about exclusion and violence against women, and we will not be trampled on,” Barzilai told the crowd.

A moment of silence was held at the start of the rally for the victims of a terror attack in Huwara earlier in the day, a father and son.

Speakers criticized recent calls from a few opposition lawmakers to form a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to stop the judicial overhaul.

“One, Matan Kahana [of the National Unity party] called for a unity government under the accused and promised him two years of peace,” former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz told protesters in Rehovot, in reference to Netanyahu and his ongoing trial. Kahana had proposed for his party and Yesh Atid to join a unity government, in exchange for Netanyahu retiring in two years.

“The second, Elazar Stern, made a similar call on behalf of Yesh Atid. Opposition members, have you become confused? At most, you represent your parties, but not the public that has fought for 33 weeks in order to preserve democracy,” Halutz added.

Halutz also criticized President Isaac Herzog for contributing “to the creation of the illusion that there is a possibility of resolving this crisis.”

“We are at the center of an unprecedented crisis of distrust between the majority of Israeli citizens and the leadership that governs us. Benjamin Netanyahu is not the solution, he is the problem,” Halutz said.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid told protesters in the northern Krayot area that he would not join a unity government with Netanyahu.

Lapid also slammed Netanyahu’s allies for their recent attacks on top military brass for what they alleged is a soft-handed approach to military reservists, who say they will stop showing up for volunteer duty due to the judicial overhaul.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks at a protest against the judicial overhaul, in Modiin, July 22, 2023. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

“This government attacked the chief of staff because it hates the truth… The problem isn’t the readiness of the IDF. The problem is with Netanyahu,” Lapid said.

Prof. Hagai Levine, head of the White Coats doctors protest group, told protesters in Netanya that “Health workers in Israel oppose discrimination in treatment. We are currently in a dystopian reality. The Israeli government is controlled by dangerous extremists that support discrimination against women, the elderly, Arabs, secular people and homosexuals.”

“Whoever stays silent and supports discrimination and racism, in the end, it will be turned against him or her. The cure is us — the nation. We still haven’t lost hope to be a free people in our own land,” added Levine, who is also chairman of the country’s Association of Public Health Physicians.

Last week, the Israel Medical Association filed a petition to the High Court of Justice, urging it to strike down the recently passed “reasonableness” law, the first major piece of legislation of the overhaul that the Knesset has passed thus far.

The law, an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary, prevents courts from striking down cabinet or ministerial decisions based on their being “unreasonable in the extreme,” a standard the courts have used from time to time over the years.

The law was approved by all 64 coalition members — with the entire 56-strong opposition boycotting the vote — despite sustained mass protests, vehement opposition from top judicial, security, economic and public figures, repeated warnings from allies, chief among them the US, and thousands of military reservists vowing to quit service.

Critics of Netanyahu’s hardline government say removing the standard of reasonableness opens the door to corruption and improper appointments of unqualified cronies to important positions. Proponents say it is necessary to leash an overly activist court.

Petitions against the law have been filed to the High Court, with an unprecedented 15-judge panel set to hear them next month.

In recent interviews with US media on the reasonableness law, the prime minister has repeatedly refused to say whether he would adhere to a potential ruling in which the High Court of Justice strikes down a Basic Law, and warned the court against doing so. Other members of his Likud party have said such a ruling would be respected, but would nevertheless cause a crisis in the country.

In addition, many members of the hard-right, religious coalition have called on the government to push ahead with the rest of its judicial overhaul plans, which include giving the ruling majority far greater power to appoint judges, and radically limiting the court’s oversight of legislation.

The hardline government’s legislation and planned bills have split the nation and triggered the largest protest movement in Israel’s history.

Most Popular
read more: