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January 13, 2023 2:47 pm

Israel Expects Mass Protests Saturday Over Draft Judicial Reform Bills


avatar by Andrew Bernard

Supreme Court justices and president Esther Hayut arrive to the courtroom of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel is expected to see tens of thousands of people demonstrate on Saturday in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square in response to the judicial reform proposals of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz, Labor Party leader Mirav Michaeli, and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas have all said they would attend the protest. Opposition leader Yair Lapid has said he would not be in attendance, but called for police to treat protesters with respect.

At issue are a series of far-reaching judicial reforms published as draft bills by Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Wednesday that would curb the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws and that would give the Knesset greater control of judicial appointments.

Gantz, announcing his intention to attend the protest on Thursday, described the proposed reforms as a “coup d’etat”.

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“The intentions of the coalition and Netanyahu to carry out a coup d’état, in a quick and chaotic manner, while violating the most basic values of the Declaration of Independence and refusing to negotiate for broad agreements – is dangerous for the State of Israel,” Gantz said on Twitter. “I call on you to come to the stage with the flags of Israel, to behave according to the law, without inciting signs, and not to be dragged into provocations that will only harm the struggle. This is not a civil war – it is a civil duty.”

In a video statement Friday, Netanyahu said that the opposition needed to “calm down.”

“A large majority of the public agrees that there is a need to make amendments to the judicial system and law enforcement,” Netanyahu said. “When they say that the smallest amendment is the destruction of democracy, it is not only an incorrect argument – it is also an argument that does not allow the possibility of reaching the understandings that should be reached through substantive discussions in the Israeli Knesset.”

The prime minister’s call for a deliberative legislative process follows the unprecedented political intervention of Israel’s Chief Justice Esther Hayut, who said in a televised speech on Thursday that the reforms would deal a “fatal blow” to “the country’s democratic identity.”

“Cynically, the masterminds of the program call it a program to ‘fix’ the justice system,” Hayut said. “And I say: this is a plan to crush the justice system. It is designed to deal a fatal blow to the independence of the judiciary and turn it into a silent authority.”

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