Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square in torrential rain on Saturday night to protest the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and its plans for sweeping changes to Israel’s justice system.
Police estimated that around 80,000 people gathered in the square and surrounding streets, many of whom traveled to Tel Aviv on chartered buses from around the country. Demonstrations were also held in Jerusalem and Haifa.
Many of the large crowd that quickly flooded the square carried umbrellas, Israeli flags and placards denouncing the coalition’s plans to shut down the justice system. Several people were carrying the Palestinian flag. A large banner behind the raised stage proclaimed: “Fight for Democracy.”
Despite police warnings of possible violence and National Security Minister Itamar Benguir’s plea for police to quell any unrest, the largely peaceful demonstration ended with only a few sporadic clashes between protesters and police.
Roads near Habima Square were closed during the rally as police were deployed in the city center to maintain order.
Among those present were Tzipi Livni, the former leader of the opposition, Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, Benny Gantz, the leader of the National Unity Party and former Minister of Defense, Gadi Eisenkot, the former head of the Israeli army and National Unity legislator, Merav Michaeli, the leader of the Labor Party and the leader of the Raam Party. . Mansour Abbas Opposition leader Yair Lapid said on Thursday he would not join the protests after he and Gantz were not allowed to speak in public.
This was the second week in which opponents of Netanyahu’s government took to the streets to protest Justice Minister Yario Levin’s proposals to rein in Israel’s independent judiciary by severely limiting the Supreme Court’s judicial powers and consolidating political control over the appointment of judges.
Speaking in Tel Aviv, Livoni vowed that “no one, not even the prime minister, will be above the law,” referring to Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial. “Together we will protect the government because it is for all of us.”
“History will not forget,” he told lawmakers pushing the controversial judicial review.
“Always remember that we prefer the cold and rain of liberal democracy to the heat and hell of a fascist dictatorship,” Eliad Shraga, head of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, told the crowd.
Shraga asked President Isaac Herzog to declare Netanyahu unfit for the post of prime minister.
He said the new government aims to “change the DNA of the Israeli state,” transforming it from a secular state to a religious fundamentalist state that harms the rights of women and the LGBTQ community.
“Something is deeply broken in our social contract, in the basic framework of laws agreed upon throughout the country’s history,” said former Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procacia.
We are at the beginning of a new era in which democracy has a new definition: not a values-based democracy, but a broken democracy that relies entirely on the “will of the voter”, which no longer cares about other democratic principles. Procacia said.
He said that people “will not accept the destruction of the values that are the basis of our system”. “We are at a decisive moment for Israel’s moral future.”
As the demonstration continued, hundreds of protestors started marching with police escort on Ibn Jabirul Street, which was blocked to traffic.
“There is no democracy without the Supreme Court,” the marchers chanted as drummers beat. Drivers on nearby roads cheered and honked their horns in support of the march despite being stuck in traffic.
The police blocked the entrance to the Ayalon highway, preventing the protesters from entering and disrupting traffic there.
Later in the afternoon, police clashed with some anti-government protesters as about 200 tried to take to the highway and block traffic. The crowd first tried to enter through a traffic junction and then through the underground parking lot of Azarili Mall. Officers managed to push the crowd back, police said.
In Haifa, hundreds gathered in the Horev Center shopping district, while thousands demonstrated in front of the president’s residence in Jerusalem, wearing winter coats and hats, waving Israeli flags and placards, and calling for Herzog’s appearance.
“Boogie, wake up, the house is on fire,” chanted the demonstrators, referring to the president’s nickname.
Hundreds of Jerusalem protesters marched to Gaza Road, where Netanyahu’s temporary residence is located. The police blocked the roads to prevent the crowd from approaching the Prime Minister’s house.
The crowd, including families with young children, men in kippahs and residents of the larger city, chanted: “My country has three branches of government, three branches!”
עזא ארלוזורוב corner, הפגנה מהרוגות שראיונה בואקה ימי באלפור pic.twitter.com/xXM1B58X2r
— Haim Goldich | Haim Goldich (@HGoldich) January 14, 2023
During the demonstration outside the presidential building, a police officer was also seen assaulting a protester. Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai’s office told the public channel Kahn that the incident is under investigation.
It is not clear what happened before the violence.
The protest against the government: the policeman hit the protestor against the government לידיאנה الמלאה >>> https://t.co/C5C7RLOAfw@SuleimanMas1
(Photo: Perry Jerusalem) pic.twitter.com/aO3xQ7XLwu
— Khan News (@kann_news) January 14, 2023
Ahead of the Tel Aviv protests, regional police chief Amy Ashed said there would be no change in policy towards protesters.
According to the Ynet news site, Ashed said during his visit to the square earlier, as quoted by the Ynet news site: Our main goal is that everyone who comes to the demonstration can reach this demonstration in an orderly and orderly manner. And security get out of here. Event start
Our only goal is to deal with people who commit vandalism or violence. “We don’t deal with trivial things,” he told the officers.
According to Haaretz newspaper, police set up security around the home of Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana of Likud, who lives near Habima Square.
We are not recognizing our country
Sheltering from the rain under a tree, Lorna from Tel Aviv said she came to the protest to ensure her grandchildren’s future.
“I feel like we’re living in the beginning of a dystopian state,” he said. “I see the end of democracy and I personally feel threatened.”
Reut came from Tel Aviv as part of a delegation of three generations of his family. “We do not recognize our country,” he said. “And that’s an understatement.”
Hadas traveled inland from the city of Gani Tikva. “We don’t like what’s happening here,” he said. I don’t know if [protesting] It will make a difference. “But if we do nothing, nothing will change for sure.”
Saturday’s demonstration was supported by the major groups that led the anti-Netanyahu protests in 2020: Ein Matzav (no way), the Minister of Crime and Black Flags. They are also endorsed by other organizations, including the LGBTQ Equality Association in Israel, the Movement for Quality Government, and the Kibbutz Movement.
Former police chief Moshe Karadi said before the rallies that law enforcement had information that right-wing activists were planning to displace agitators at the protests.
Kan News quoted Karadi as saying at a conference in Beersheba: “Elements of the other side sometimes put rioters in demonstrations to provoke them, and there is information about this in these demonstrations.”
He downplayed concerns about possible unrest among demonstrators, saying it was “fake news from some elements”.
Despite warnings that the protest might attract right-wing agitators, there were no reports of serious violence.
Two teenagers wearing headscarves that identified them as fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, known for their right-wing supporters, tried to provoke a reaction in Tel Aviv.
“Only Ben Goyer,” one teenager repeatedly shouted, pointing to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Goyer, leader of the far-right Utzma Yehudith party. “Stupid boy,” one of the older ladies replied while the rest of the crowd ignored her.
On Friday, Gantz, the leader of the National Unity Party, called on Israelis from across the political spectrum to participate in the Tel Aviv protests.
I call on all Israelis, from the left to the right, to come to demonstrations to preserve Israeli democracy. Making your voice heard at this time is a civic duty of the highest importance, not “civil disobedience,” as those trying to suppress the protests, said Gantz, who previously served as defense minister and chief of the Israeli army.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu dismissed criticism of the proposed judicial changes, a day after US Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hyatt warned that approving the changes would deal a “deadly blow” to the country’s democratic character.
Netanyahu emphasized in a Friday video: “We talked about this issue before the election and we received a clear order from the people to do this. I suggest everyone to be calm and engage in a substantive discussion.
Netanyahu added: “When they say that the smallest reform is the destruction of democracy, this is not only a false claim, but also does not allow for an understanding to be reached through fundamental dialogue in the Knesset.”
Critics of the plans, which include current and former top judicial and legal officials as well as Netanyahu’s political rivals, say Levin’s reforms would jeopardize basic civil and minority rights by all but eliminating the Supreme Court’s authority to overturn laws and government decisions. and granting the ruling majority control over the appointment of judges – meaning the judiciary can no longer act as a brake on abuse and excess by the political leadership. Proponents of these changes argue that the courts have assumed too much power and issued rulings that contradict the will of the voters.