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100,000 rally for reform in Jerusalem

As Israel's prime minister was announcing a pause in the judicial overhaul, his voters were demanding its passage.

Israelis protest in Jerusalem in support of the judicial reform program, March 27, 2023. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.
Israelis protest in Jerusalem in support of the judicial reform program, March 27, 2023. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.

A massive demonstration in support of judicial reform took place on Monday evening in Jerusalem at the same time that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a pause in the legislative process to allow negotiations.

More than 100,000 people gathered in the capital, close to the Knesset and Supreme Court, police sources said, in a show of solidarity following months of left-wing-led protests against the coalition’s reform program.

The rally was held under the banner of “They will not steal our elections,” in reference to the November vote that saw Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc secure a 64-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset.

A large demonstration against the judicial reform was held earlier in the afternoon outside the Knesset on a day that saw people take to the streets in cities across the country and a general strike that shut down parts of the economy, including the grounding of flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Government ministers and lawmakers from the coalition took to the stage during the pro-reform rally to call for the legislation to be passed. They included MK Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism Party, the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee; Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism Party; and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, the head of the Otzma Yehudit Party.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi of Likud told the demonstrators that the reform initiative would continue.

“We are not stopping in any way, shape or form. We will not surrender to anarchists … the reform will move forward,” said Karhi.

Leaders of the anti-reform movement also indicated that the protests would not stop after Netanyahu called a halt to the legislative process until the Knesset’s summer session, with more disruptions expected on Tuesday.

Groups organizing the pro-reform rally included Bezalmo, Torat Lechima, Ad Kan, Im Tirzu and Regavim.

There was concern that clashes would take place between demonstrators from the rival camps after the La Familia group announced that it was attending the Jerusalem rally. La Familia is a group of fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club with a history of violence.

Netanyahu called for calm ahead of the dueling protests near the Knesset.

“I call on all the demonstrators in Jerusalem, on the right and the left, to behave responsibly and not to act violently. We are brothers,” the premier posted to his Twitter account.

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