(February 26, 2023 / JNS) The Israel Police detained at least 21 people on Saturday night during rowdy protests against the government’s judicial reform plan.
Demonstrators set fire in the streets of Tel Aviv and blocked the Dan region’s main north-south roadway, with one protester painting “Bibi is a traitor” on the Ayalon Highway, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.
Another protester was arrested for biting an officer.
Israelis clogged the streets, in one instance unfurling a massive banner showing Netanyahu next to the late Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban.
During the protest in Tel Aviv, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak called the judicial proposal “an assassination of the Declaration of Independence, which will turn Israel into a dictatorship.”
Earlier this month, Barak likened efforts by President Isaac Herzog to mediate between the coalition and opposition to the West’s appeasement of Nazi Germany.
Barak shared on social media an image of Herzog’s head superimposed on the body of former British Premier Neville Chamberlain, best remembered for forging the Munich Agreement that allowed Adolf Hitler to annex parts of Czechoslovakia in exchange for a “peace in our time” that never materialized but instead fueled the Nazi death machine.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that Jews in the U.S. and Canada were “very concerned about the judicial overhaul that will change Israel’s democracy beyond recognition.
“We are used to standing by Israel when it is threatened, but now Israel is also being threatened…[and] we will invest efforts together with you to fight for the character of the State of Israel and in the name of Judaism we will protect democracy.”
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir denounced “the criminal rampage by protesters in Tel Aviv, which includes burning tires on the Ayalon Highway and spraying graffiti accusing the prime minister of treason and shows that this is a movement of anarchists who don’t want freedom of expression but the freedom to commit sedition.
“I call on [opposition and Yesh Atid Party leader] Yair Lapid and [National Unity Party head] Benny Gantz to immediately condemn this anarchic and incitant riot,” he added.
Lapid last week rejected Netanyahu’s offer to negotiate without preconditions over the government’s judicial reform proposals.
“Mr. Netanyahu. This is not the time for false slogans and spins. Instead of statements to the media, phone the president, let him know that you are stopping the legislative process and starting dialogue within the framework [he has presented],” Lapid tweeted.
It came after Netanyahu had reached out to the people of Israel, saying “this is the time to talk.”
“I hear the voices of the people. I hear those who are praising [the judicial reforms] and I also hear those who are concerned. When there are disagreements among us, it is possible and necessary to talk in order to reach agreements or at least reduce the disagreements among us,” he said.
“I am standing up, and I am calling out from here: Come and let’s talk—here and now—with neither preconditions nor excuses, so that together we might achieve broad agreement for the good of all Israeli citizens, and for the good of our country,” said Netanyahu.
Lapid last month called on President Isaac Herzog, whose role is that of national figurehead, to set up a committee to recommend a “balanced” plan to reform the judiciary. In response, the president two weeks ago offered five principles as “a basis for immediate and decisive negotiations that will arrange the relations between the government branches.”
The following day, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman urged opposition leaders to meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to discuss the reform program.
Lapid rejected that overture as well.
The Netanyahu government has thus far approved in their first of three readings required to become law several bills as part of its reform plan.
The government’s plan includes changing the way judges are selected so that the Knesset members will have a majority say on the Judicial Selection Committee; 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 and governmental decisions; and empowering ministers to hire and fire their own legal advisers.
Netanyahu has described as “baseless” claims by critics that the proposals would mark the end of the country’s democracy, and vowed to implement the plan “responsibly.”
“The truth is that the balance between the branches of government has been violated over the past two decades,” said Netanyahu. “This unusual phenomenon does not exist anywhere else in the world—not in the United States, not in Western Europe and not during Israel’s first 50 years of existence.”
Protest organizers have called for nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday, which they have billed as a “day of struggle.”
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