update deskIsrael News

200,000 rally for judicial reform in Tel Aviv

Protesters arrived in chartered buses from over 100 locations throughout the country.

Supporters of judicial reform demonstrate in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2023. Photo by Aharle Crombie.
Supporters of judicial reform demonstrate in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2023. Photo by Aharle Crombie.

An estimated 200,000 supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform plans converged on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening for the “March of the Million” mega-rally, organizers said.

Tens of thousands more were on their way as speakers prepared to address the multitude.

The massive demonstration kicked off as parliament advanced a much-debated bill to limit the Supreme Court’s use of the so-called reasonableness standard. The legislation would bar “reasonableness” as a justification for judges to reverse decisions made by the Cabinet, ministers and “other elected officials as set by law.”

“On the eve of the conclusion of the legislative proceedings [to cancel the] reasonableness ground, the entire national camp will come to Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv,” right-wing organizers announced last week. “Stand alongside the heads of the national camp and the Knesset members of the coalition and tell them: The nation is with you! Complete the legislation! Sixty-four [Knesset] mandates are not second-class citizens.”

An estimated 200,000 supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform plans converged on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, July 23, 2023. Video by Elements.

Protesters traveled to Tel Aviv in chartered buses from more than 100 locations throughout the country. Moreover, videos shared by social media users showed hundreds arriving by train, putting to bed opposition claims that Israelis are united against judicial reform.

Signs read, “The people voted [for] judicial reform [in November’s national election],” “Physicians for the reform,” “Professors for legal reform” and “Dictatorship of the High Court.”

“The nation chose judicial reform,” the banner in Tel Aviv reads, July 23, 2023. Photo by Malkah Fleisher.

The previous large-scale protest in support of judicial reform, which took place near the Knesset in Jerusalem on April 27, was attended by some 600,000 people, organizers said. After 29 weeks of anti-reform protests have grabbed headlines not only in the Jewish state but worldwide, right-wing activists once again hope to recapture the narrative.

The coalition government wants to pass the amendment to the reasonableness standard into law before the Knesset goes into recess on July 30, and the final vote is expected to take place on Monday or Tuesday.

Last week, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee gave the bill its initial approval. With nine committee members voting in favor and seven opposed, the amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary was sent back to the plenum for the second and third readings needed for it to become law.

Several streets in Jerusalem were closed to traffic on Sunday after thousands of anti-reform demonstrators traveled to Israel’s capital the previous evening. Many of the protesters marched the 40 miles from Tel Aviv, with others joining along the way. The protesters pitched tents at Gan Sacher Park near the Knesset, Supreme Court and other governmental institutions.

The prime minister’s Likud Party has rejected a judicial reform proposal put forward by the Histadrut labor federation, saying that “the proposal would completely neuter the amendment on the issue of reasonableness and requires total concession on all the other elements of the reform.”

Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar–David made it clear that he is not seeking another general strike right now similar to the one that paralyzed the country in March. 

For its part, the Israel Medical Association declared a labor dispute, allowing it to carry out sanctions in two weeks. Last week, thousands of physicians around the country held a two-hour “warning strike,” only providing urgent and life-saving care. In a recent letter, hundreds of doctors had called on association chairman Professor Zion Hagay to declare a full strike “until the coup is completely shelved.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who previously held meetings at his Jerusalem residence with the ruling coalition and the opposition in an attempt to hammer out an agreement, returned from his trip to the United States on Sunday.

Both now and during the trip, the head of state has been working “to fully explore negotiation efforts in order to reach an agreement between the sides,” a statement from Herzog’s office said.

Upon returning to Israel, Herzog met with Netanyahu at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, where the prime minister remains hospitalized following the implantation of a pacemaker overnight Saturday.

Later on Sunday, Herzog will meet with opposition leader Yair Lapid, a statement from the President’s Office said.

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