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Tel Aviv mayor: ‘Dictatorships only become democracies again with bloodshed’

Ron Huldai spoke at a demonstration against the judicial reform plan.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai speaks at the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, Feb. 19, 2020. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai speaks at the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, Feb. 19, 2020. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

Israel is headed towards dictatorship and bloodshed if the government moves forward with its judicial reform plan, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said on Monday. “Something we won’t let happen,” he added.

“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,” Huldai said.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday voted to send the first bill in the government’s judicial reform package for its first reading in the full plenum, which is likely to take place next week.

The bill 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 only a simple majority needed to appoint judges to Israeli courts.

Opponents of this particular 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.

Before the committee vote, opposition lawmakers shouted down members of the coalition, with some having to be physically restrained. Many parliamentarians were ejected from the meeting.

Huldai referred to it as a “black day in which the decision was made to turn Israel into a dictatorship and a state of halachah,” meaning a state governed by Jewish religious law.

The mayor’s words were criticized by both sides of the aisle.

Member of Knesset Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity Party, who opposes the judicial reform plan, tweeted: “We are in an emergency situation and we are in a fight. But our struggle is for Israeli democracy, not a struggle between us. The pain and fear have their place, but we must immediately stop the violent discourse and rampage on both sides that could send us into the abyss.

“Huldai’s call is dangerous, out of place and more than that—it harms the righteous struggle,” Gantz added.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit Party tweeted, “The attorney general must immediately order an investigation against Ron Huldai. The mayor of Tel Aviv has no immunity and no privilege to incite murder. His call is serious and he must be questioned about it and stand trial.”

Information Minister Galit Distel-Atbaryan of the Likud Party tweeted in part, “A mayor who calls for fratricide and bloodshed in the streets must end his life in prison. Enough already with this leniency towards the privileged elites who are working to destroy the state.”

The development comes as thousands of Israelis protested on Monday in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country against the judicial reform proposal.

Roads were closed in major cities, and demonstrators blocked the main entrance to Ben-Gurion Airport along the Route 1 highway.

The main protest was held outside the Knesset in the capital.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday condemned calls by opponents of the reform plan to violate the law, and called on them to act responsibly.

“I would like to strongly criticize the calls to break the law, for civil rebellion, to intentionally harm the economy and even use weapons by those who oppose government policy,” said Netanyahu. “Red lines cannot be crossed. Red lines have been crossed in recent days by extremist elements that have one goal: to intentionally bring about anarchy.”

His government received a clear mandate from the people of Israel in a democratic election, he continued.

“Nobody here can deny this. Neither can anyone deny the right to demonstrate. However, there cannot be calls to violence, to act violently, to call for civil rebellion, to compel people to strike who do not want to do so. This is forbidden,” he said.

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