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Protesters harass lawmakers outside their homes ahead of Knesset vote on judicial reforms

As part of a “national day of struggle,” opponents of the reform plan attempted to prevent MKs from reaching the parliament • “The protesters who preach about democracy are the ones who are bringing about the end of democracy,” says Israeli premier.

Israelis protest against the government's judicial reform package outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, Feb. 13, 2023. Credit: Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Israelis protest against the government's judicial reform package outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, Feb. 13, 2023. Credit: Jamal Awad/Flash90.

Protesters harassed several Israeli coalition lawmakers outside their homes on Monday in a bid to block them from reaching the Knesset, where the first bill in the government’s judicial reform package was set for the first of three readings required to pass into law.

In one instance, members of the Ahim L’Neshek (Brothers in Arms) group blocked the car of Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionist Party) in the town of Pnei Kedem, located in the Gush Etzion region just south of Jerusalem.

Concurrently, demonstrators from the Block the Revolution organization surrounded the apartment of MK Tally Gotliv (Likud) in Givat Shmuel, linking arms to prevent her from exiting.

Police were called to the scene and dispersed the protesters.

“These are predators,” said Gotliv after finally arriving at parliament. “You can’t come to a person’s home and tell them they can’t leave—that’s anarchy. You will not harm the right to privacy in the name of a demonstration,” she said, adding, “Had it come to violence I cannot defend myself.”

Protesters also surrounded the home in Ashkelon of Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter (Likud) as well as the Ramat Gan home of Education Minister Yoav Kisch (Likud).

Eight people were arrested for harassing Gotliv and Kisch.

“When protesters prevent public representatives from going to the Knesset to vote, and make an autistic girl miserable, that isn’t a legitimate protest,” tweeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.

“The protesters who preach about democracy are the ones bringing about the end of democracy by blocking officials from performing a basic right—voting,” he added.

Netanyahu was referring to MK Gotliv’s daughter, who has special needs.

Protesters on Monday also blocked major roads in several cities, including the Route 1 highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said on Monday he would convene an “urgent” situation assessment with police in Jerusalem in response to “anarchists going wild.”

“Freedom of speech—yes, anarchy—no,” he said, adding, “We must preserve the fabric of society by preventing anarchists from paralyzing the country.”

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee last week voted to send the bill for its first reading in the full plenum. The legislation has been formulated as an amendment to Basic Law: Judiciary and would give the government control over the Judicial Selection Committee with five of the panel’s nine members, and a simple majority needed to appoint judges to Israeli courts.

Opponents of the change argue that it would give the coalition too much power, whereas proponents have pointed to the U.S. Senate, which approves Supreme Court justices by simple majority, often along partisan lines.

The government’s plan also includes passing an “override clause,” a law that would give legislators the power to reverse, or “override,” the Supreme Court when it strikes down laws; abolishing the legal justification of “reasonableness” by which the court can cancel Knesset decisions; and empowering ministers to hire and fire their own legal advisers.

Protest organizers have declared Monday a “national day of struggle,” and called for a large rally outside the Knesset along with marches in several cities.

Israelis protest against the government’s judicial reform package in Tel Aviv, Feb. 18, 2023. Credit: Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90.

At last week’s demonstration outside parliament, opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party slammed the Israeli government as “corrupt” and “extremist.”

“They hear our strength and our commitment. They pretend they don’t hear and that they’re not afraid—but they hear and are afraid…. They’re trembling as rulers have always trembled when they discovered that there were people facing them who were not ready to give up.

“We will fight in the streets, we’ll fight until we win,” said Lapid.

The same day, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said, “This is the history of the world. Countries become dictatorships through the use of democratic tools…. Countries do not become democratic again, except with bloodshed.”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for the protest movement against the government to move to the next stage, one fueled by violent confrontation.

“What is needed is to move to the next stage, the stage of war, and war is not waged with speeches. War is waged in a face-to-face battle, head-to-head and hand-to-hand, and that is what will happen here,” he said in an interview with DemocraTV.

On Sunday night, Netanyahu said he was not allowed to talk in-depth about the judicial reforms due to a directive by Israel’s attorney general, even though it is the key issue currently engaging the country’s attention.

“I’d love to speak to you about it at length. And to tell you why you shouldn’t worry. But for the moment, I’m prevented from doing that because I’ve been given a gag order,” the prime minister said.

Calling the gag order “patently ridiculous,” he said he would nonetheless reserve his comments on the subject to three points:

1) Israel will remain a democracy with “majority rule and proper safeguards for civil liberties”;

2) “All democracies should respect the will of other free peoples, just as we respect their democratic decisions”—a reference to comments by U.S. administration officials, including President Joe Biden, who have weighed in on Israel’s judicial reform debate; and

3) Opposition rhetoric against judicial reform has been “frankly reckless and dangerous, including calls for bloodshed in the streets and calls for civil war.” This has encouraged Israel’s enemies such as Hezbollah to believe Israel is on the verge of collapse.

“I’m going to disappoint Israel’s enemies. If you’re waiting for a civil war, it ain’t gonna happen…. There will be no bloodshed, I hope—none at all. Yes, we have heated debates in Israel. We’ve always had. Yes, Israel is a rambunctious democracy. It’s always been one. But we are one people with one destiny with one country with one faith,” said Netanyahu.

“And for 75 years we have stood together side by side to establish, defend and build our one and only state and we will continue to work to secure that homeland for generations to come.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin and MK Rothman last week called on leaders of the opposition to meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to discuss the judicial reform program.

Lapid rejected the overture, saying he would only agree if the proposed legislation was paused.

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