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Ahead of 17th week of protests, leaders slam pro-overhaul rally’s ‘severe incitement’

  • April 29, 2023

Protesters opposed to the government’s judicial overhaul were set to hold demonstrations around the country on Saturday night for the 17th consecutive week, days after a mass rally by supporters of the contentious plan.

Anti-government protest organizers said they planned to come out in force in response to the rally by proponents of the legislation, and ahead of the Knesset reconvening after a break.

“During the demonstration in central Tel Aviv, the leadership of the national protests will announce the upcoming course of action,” organizers said in a statement ahead of Saturday’s rally.

“There is only one line of defense separating Israel from dictatorship: hundreds of thousands of determined citizens on the streets,” the statement read,

The main protest event on Saturday in Tel Aviv will feature speeches by former Supreme Court Judge Yoram Danziger and Nobel Prize winner for chemistry Aaron Ciechanover.

Other rallies are planned for 150 locations around the country.

The protest leaders slammed the “severe incitement” on display at Thursday’s Jerusalem rally in support of the government’s plans to drastically weaken the judiciary.

“The severe incitement… which included the shocking scenes of the Supreme Court judges being trampled on, is reminiscent of regime demonstrations by the ayatollahs in Iran,” protest leaders said, apparently referring to Iranian rallies which often feature Israeli and American flags being trampled on.

“This is the path that the Israeli government is dragging us down. We must stop it,” the statement read.

Ahead of the pro-overhaul rally, participants were filmed walking on a massive banner with the faces of Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, former chief justice Aharon Barak, former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit and former state attorney Shai Nitzan, alongside slogans against them.

It was unclear whether it was intentional or whether the banner had been placed on the ground for a period before being later lifted by activists as they marched near the Knesset.

As the rally got underway, participants chanted “The people demand judicial reform” and “No compromise, Bibi, don’t back down.”

Far-right minister Itamar Ben Gvir used his speech at the event to attack opponents of the judicial overhaul, claiming that they are not only interested in just blocking reform but also in thwarting the right-wing government more broadly. “They haven’t accepted that we won,” he claimed.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is spearheading the judicial overhaul effort, launched a biting attack on the Supreme Court justices and defended his far-reaching proposals to remake the judiciary.

“The time has come for a High Court that does not give rights to the families of terrorists, and does not permit fake memorial services together with terror supporters,” he said, referring to the annual joint ceremony to mutually commemorate those lost on both sides of the conflict.

Levin said he supported the compromise talks being led by President Isaac Herzog, while accusing opposition representatives of rejecting all offers.

Leading opposition figures including National Unity party leader Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid slammed Levin for the speech, with Gantz saying the remarks called into question the coalition’s commitment to reaching a consensus on judicial reform during negotiations.

Crowd estimates for the pro-government rally put the number of attendees at around 150,000 to 200,000 people, a show of force and the largest event so far in support of the legislative effort. The crowd size appeared to be similar to the turnout at the weekly Saturday night rallies against the government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not attend, but tweeted a message of appreciation to the participants.

While Thursday’s was the first rally of such magnitude by pro-overhaul activists, organizers sought to demonstrate that they represented the majority opinion on the issue, pointing to the overhaul efforts as an extension of the pro-Netanyahu bloc’s election victory, which allowed the Likud leader to form a coalition, Israel’s most hardline to date.

However, polls have consistently shown that the legislation is broadly unpopular in its current form, and that support for the government has dropped since the election.

The judicial overhaul has been put on hold while the government holds negotiations with the opposition. The Knesset’s summer session begins next week.

Several senior officials told Channel 13 news on Friday that the coalition will not advance any of the overhaul bills until the passage of the state budget, which the ruling bloc must do by May 29.

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