In Israel, over 300,000 people protested against the government and its judicial reform

In Israel, over 300,000 people protested against the government and its judicial reform

Demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and its proposed judicial reform, March 11, 2023.

Tel Aviv – Over 300,000 people in Israel took to the streets on Saturday to demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government and its proposal for judicial reform, which many say threatens democracy and which President Yitzhak Herzog called for this week to be canceled. The Haaretz newspaper, referring to the organizers of the event, wrote that half a million people participated in the demonstration and that it was the largest protest in the country's history.

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The largest demonstration took place again in Tel Aviv, where at least 200,000 people demonstrated. That was the most since January, when the protests in that city began, then spread to other cities, including Jerusalem. According to The Times of Israel, about 50,000 people demonstrated today in Haifa and 10,000 in Beersheba, but protests also took place in other Israeli cities.

In Tel Aviv, a crowd enthusiasticallygreeted regional police chief Amichai Eshed, who National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tried to remove from his post this week for lack of force interventions against protesters. The far-right minister calls the protesters, who sometimes block the main road from Tel Aviv with their actions, as anarchists. However, Ešed's appeal was blocked by the general prosecutor, who described this move as politically motivated.

Large demonstrations have also taken place in recent weeks in Jerusalem, where people protested in front of the parliament. In it, the governing coalition has a majority, which, despite criticism from broad sections of Israeli society and President Herzog's appeal, continues to approve the judicial reform. According to local media, he is going to accept it by the end of the month.

The proposed reform would give the government more influence over the appointment of judges and limit the powers of the supreme court. In addition to the president, the opposition, a number of experts and many soldiers of the Israeli army in reserve expressed their disapproval of the proposal. Some even called the changes the end of democracy and the beginning of a dictatorship.

People in the streets of Tel Aviv again carried Israeli flags and various banners, for example with the inscription Let's save democracy. A sixty-four-year-old woman in a wheelchair also arrived. “It's my first demonstration. But what's happening now is terrible, I don't want to live in a dictatorship,” Haaretz quoted the woman as saying. “My two children live in the US, now for the first time I'm happy that they live there,” she added.

The organizers of the demonstrations issued a statement before today's demonstrations, in which they said that if the government does not stop the process of approving the reform, they will intensify the protests in the coming days. “We will not agree to subordinate the judiciary to the government,” The Jerusalem Post (JP) quoted the statement as saying. “We do not even agree with criminals serving as ministers,” they said, among other things, referring to the criminal prosecution of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The JP newspaper recalled that the protests began even before the announcement of the judicial reform proposal and that many Israelis also resent other steps taken by this government, such as the law to prevent the Supreme Court from interfering in the appointment of ministers. In January, the Supreme Court ruled that the leader of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas Arje Deri could not be a minister, as he had been convicted several times in the past, including for corruption. Netanyahu eventually dismissed Deri, but there is speculation that he will return to the government after the relevant law is passed.

The previous large protest took place on Thursday, which organizers called a “day of resistance against the dictatorship”. In Jerusalem during it, among other things, dozens of cars blocked the entrance to Ben Gurion International Airport in an attempt to prevent Netanyahu from leaving for Rome. The Prime Minister finally arrived at the airport by helicopter. Similarly, the protesters want to block Netanyahu's flight to Berlin on Wednesday. Another large demonstration is to be held again on Thursday, this time under the slogan “Day of Escalating Resistance”. “These are the most important weeks in the fight to save Israeli democracy from those who want to destroy it,” the organizers said in a statement.