Residents of Israel protest in this Feb. 25, 2023 file photo against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and its proposed judicial reform, which many see as a threat to democracy.
Tel Aviv – Over 130,000 people demonstrated this evening in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and its proposed judicial reform, which many see as a threat to democracy. The local media reported on it. It was probably the most mass protests that have taken place in Israel since the beginning of January. The police announced in the evening that they had arrested two dozen protesters.
The largest demonstration took place again in Tel Aviv, where it manifested itself for the eighth Saturday in a row. According to the estimate of the television station Channel 12, one hundred thousand people took to the streets there in the evening, the newspaper Haaretz wrote about more than one hundred thousand. 30,000 people took part in the demonstration in Haifa and thousands demonstrated in other cities, including Jerusalem.
Similar to the previous demonstration, today's was also peaceful, but clashes with the police took place on the highway from Tel Aviv, which was temporarily blocked by the crowd and the police tried to push them out of it. Protesters also shouted at the police: “We fight for you too. Democracy”. Police later announced that they had arrested 18 people. One of them is being investigated for spray-painting the sign “Bibi the traitor” on the highway, referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has the nickname Bibi.
The behavior of the protesters was condemned by the Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir. “The illegal rampage of protesters in Tel Aviv, including burning tires on the Ayalon (highway) and spraying graffiti accusing the Israeli prime minister of treason, shows that this is an anarchist protest,” said Ben Gvir, who heads the far-right party. “I have instructed the police to act with zero tolerance for violence, incitement to violence and anarchy. Anarchists must not be allowed to set fire to Tel Aviv,” Ben Gvir added, according to Haaretz daily. The photos in the Israeli media do not show protesters burning tires on the highway, one photo from Tel Aviv shows protesters standing around a bonfire.
Protesters again today waved Israeli flags and carried various banners. In Tel Aviv, a group of people unfurled a giant banner, featuring photos of Netanyahu, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which were meant to symbolize authoritarian rule. In connection with judicial reform, many Israelis talk about the end of democracy and the beginning of dictatorship.
For example, former Israeli Prime Minister and ex-Minister of Defense Ehud Barak said today in Tel Aviv that the country is experiencing the worst crisis since the establishment of the State of Israel. “We are here to defend the declaration of independence against the attempt to turn Israel into a dictatorship,” Barak said, according to the Haaretz daily. Former Mossad intelligence chief Danny Jatom also told Channel 13 today that judicial reform will turn Israel into a dictatorship.
For weeks, opposition politicians and experts from various fields, including President Yitzchak Herzog, are trying to get the government to wait before approving the reform and seek a compromise with the opposition. Despite widespread criticism and mass demonstrations, on Monday the parliament, in which the ruling coalition has a majority, approved in the first reading the first part of the reform concerning the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court. On Monday, for the second week in a row, tens of thousands of people gathered in Jerusalem to protest as the parliament debated the reform.