On February 20, 2023, tens of thousands of people gathered again in front of the Israeli parliament, which is to vote in the first reading on the controversial judicial reform.
Jerusalem – Tens of thousands of people gathered again today in front of the Israeli parliament, which is to vote in the first reading on the controversial judicial reform. Haaretz newspaper wrote that according to unofficial estimates, there are at least one hundred thousand people at the demonstration. A similar protest took place in Jerusalem a week ago, when according to the organizers, 100,000 people took part in it, other sources wrote about 70,000 to 80,000 demonstrators at the parliament building. Today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told deputies of his Likud party that “protesters trample on democracy” and “disrespect the results of the elections,” Haaretz wrote, citing a Likud deputy.
The daily Haaretz published a video this afternoon showing crowds of people waving Israeli flags around the parliament. Earlier, local media also reported on demonstrations in Tel Aviv and other cities. The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported in the morning that demonstrators blocked some roads, including the one leading from Tel Aviv to Ben Gurion International Airport. Groups of protesters also sat in front of the houses of several government MPs in the morning to prevent them from going to parliament. The server of The Times of Israel wrote in the morning that thousands of parents with their children are demonstrating in front of schools in various parts of the country.
The police in Jerusalem built barriers around the parliament building and increased the deployment of police officers in the streets. Several protesters were detained due to road blockades today, The Jerusalem Post reported. National Security Minister Ben-Gvir today criticized the police for failing to prevent roadblocks. “Freedom of speech yes, anarchy no. We must keep the country running and not allow anarchists to paralyze it,” said Ben-Gvir.
Large demonstrations against the judicial reform proposal have been held in Israel since the beginning of January every Saturday in Tel Aviv, and later spread to other cities. The proposed coalition government, which also includes far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties, is subject to criticism from a wide spectrum, and many fear for Israeli democracy. For example, the former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence service, Tamir Pardo, said that sweeping reforms would move Israel towards a dictatorship.
“The government is submitting two laws for the first vote that will abolish democracy in Israel,” opposition leader and prime minister until last December Jair Lapid said today at his party's meeting. According to him, tonight Israel will take the first step towards a non-democratic state. Lapid also accused the government coalition of rejecting dialogue and a mad dash for hasty and irresponsible legislation. “There has been no real discussion of the terrible damage this legislation will do to the economy and our livelihoods, or the danger to (Israeli) security or the fact that it is dividing the Israeli people,” Lapid said today.
“The founding fathers (of the State of Israel) did not imagine that we should have an undemocratic regime. They knew that democracy is not only about counting the voters' votes, but also about listening to them. Today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, you are not listening to the voters,” another opposition leader, Benny, told the Prime Minister Ganc.
Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog also called on the government more than a week ago to wait before approving the reform and seek a compromise with the opposition. The American ambassador to Israel Tom Nides also said at the weekend that the government should slow down and seek consensus on the reform, the proposal of which in its current form could threaten the democratic functioning of Israeli institutions.
Parliament is to vote in the afternoon, from five o'clock CET , about the first part of the judicial reform. The part concerning the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court is to be approved in the first reading, according to the reform, the government coalition would gain control over the appointment. Another part of the proposal is to prevent the Supreme Court from being able to block laws referred to as “fundamental laws”, i.e. those that replace a constitution that Israel does not have, AP reminded.
Critics of the reform also fear that the government will will be able to designate any legislation as “fundamental law” and will limit the influence of the Supreme Court on it. Some say the reform will also help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his corruption prosecution. Netanyahu denies guilt in the trials and defends the judicial reform by saying that it is necessary to limit activist judges who, according to him, interfere with the executive power.