‘Plan to change Israel’s DNA’: 80,000 rally in Tel Aviv against judicial overhaul

'Plan to change Israel's DNA': 80,000 rally in Tel Aviv against judicial overhaul
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Tens of thousands of demonstrators braved rainy weather to gather in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square on Saturday night to protest against the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his plans for sweeping changes to Israel’s justice system.

According to police estimates, about 80,000 people gathered in the square and surrounding streets, many traveling to Tel Aviv on chartered buses from all over the country. Demonstrations were also held in Jerusalem and Haifa.

Despite police warnings of possible violence and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir urging police to quell any unrest, the demonstrations ended largely peacefully, with occasional clashes between protesters and police.

Roads near Habima Square were closed during the protest as the police used force in the city center to maintain order.

Among those present were former opposition leader Tzipi Livni, former prime minister Ehud Barak, National Unity party leader and former defense minister Benny Gantz, former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot (National Unity) and Labor Party leader Merav Mikael.

The demonstration was the second week in which opponents of Netanyahu’s government took to the streets to protest Justice Minister Yariv Levy’s proposals to undermine the judiciary by severely limiting the Supreme Court’s judicial review powers and strengthening political control over the appointment of judges.

On January 14, 2023, thousands of people protest against the Israeli government in Habima Square in Tel Aviv. (Yonathan Sindel/Flash90)

Livni, who appeared on stage in Tel Aviv, swore that “no one will be above the law, not even the prime minister… We will protect the state together, because it is for all of us.”

“History will not forget,” he said, addressing the lawmakers who pushed the controversial judicial reforms.

“Always remember that we prefer the cold and rain of a liberal democracy to the heat and hell of a fascist dictatorship,” Eliad Shraga, chairman of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, told the crowd.

Shraga called on President Isaac Herzog to consider Netanyahu unfit for the post of prime minister. According to him, the new government aims to “change the DNA of the State of Israel” and transform it from a secular state to a religious fundamentalist state that harms the rights of women and the LGBTQ community.

People protest against the Israeli government in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Former Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia said, “Something is deeply broken in our social compact, within the framework of agreed-upon rules throughout the country’s history.

“We are at the beginning of a new era of a new definition of democracy: not a democracy based on values, but a fragmented democracy based entirely on the ‘will of the voter’, which no longer cares about other democratic principles. “

Procaccia said the public “will not accept the destruction of the values ​​that form the basis of our system… We are at a moment of fateful decision for the moral future of Israel.”

Israeli protesters take part in a rally against the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

With the rally underway, several hundred protesters began marching down Ibn Gabirol Street, escorted by police, and traffic was stopped on the road.

The participants of the march chanted the slogan “There is no democracy without the Supreme Court” with drums. Drivers on nearby roads shouted and honked in support of the march even though they were stuck in traffic.

The police closed the entrance to the Ayalon highway, preventing the protesters from entering and disrupting traffic there.

Later in the evening, police clashed with some anti-government protesters as about 200 tried to block the highway. The crowd first tried to enter through the junction and then through the underground parking of Azrieli shopping center. Officers were able to disperse the crowd, police said.

On January 14, 2023, protesters participating in a demonstration against the government of Benjamin Netanyahu clashed with the police in Tel Aviv. (Yonathan Sindel/Flash90)

In Haifa, hundreds of people gathered at the Horev Center in Haifa, while thousands protested in front of the Presidential Residence in the capital, gathering in winter coats and hats, waving Israeli flags and placards, calling for President Isaac Herzog to appear.

Several hundred Jerusalem demonstrators marched towards Azza Road, where Netanyahu’s temporary residence is located. Police set up roadblocks to prevent the crowd from approaching the prime minister’s house.

The crowd, including families with young children, kippah wearers and elderly residents, chanted, “My country has three branches of government!”

A police officer was also seen attacking a protester during the demonstration in front of the presidential residence. Israeli police chief Kobi Shabtai’s office told Kan public broadcaster that the incident is under investigation.

It was not clear what led up to the violence.

Before the Tel Aviv rally, Tel Aviv District Police Chief Ami Eshed said there was no change in policy.

“Our main goal is that everyone who comes to the demonstration can arrive in an orderly manner and leave here in an orderly and safe manner,” Eshed said during the walk. is the beginning of the event.

“Our sole purpose is to deal with people who engage in vandalism or violence. We don’t deal with trivial things,” he told the officers.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, the police took security measures around the house of Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana (Likud), who lives near Habima Square.

Israelis protest against the government of Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Lorna from Tel Aviv, who took shelter from the rain under a tree, said that she came to the action to ensure the future of her grandchildren.

“It seems to me that we are living in the beginning of a dystopian state,” he said. “I see the end of democracy and I personally feel threatened.”

A delegation of three generations of the Reut family from Tel Aviv came to the protest. “We are beginning to not recognize our own country,” he said. “And that’s an understatement.”

Hades Ganei traveled from Tikvah. “We don’t like what’s going on here,” he said. “I dont know [protesting] will make a difference. But if we don’t do something, surely nothing will change,” he said.

Saturday’s rallies were supported by the top groups leading anti-Netanyahu protests in 2020: Ein Matzav (No Way), Crime Minister and Black Flags. They have also been endorsed by other organizations, including the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, the Quality Government Movement, and the Kibbutz Movement.

“Boogie, wake up, the house is on fire,” the demonstrators chanted “Boogie, wake up, the people are more valuable”, referring to the president’s nickname.

Israelis protest the government of Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the Presidential Residence on January 14, 2023 in Jerusalem. (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Before the rallies, former police chief Moshe Karadi said that law enforcement agencies had information that right-wing activists intended to incite protesters.

Kan news quoted Karadin’s words at a conference in Beersheba: “Elements of the opposite side sometimes riot in demonstrations for the purpose of provocation, and there is information on this topic in this demonstration as well.”

He played down concerns about possible unrest among demonstrators, saying it was “fake news from certain elements”.

Despite warnings that the protest could attract right-wing agitators, there were no reports of violence.

Two teenagers wearing scarves declaring they are fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, known for their right-wing fans, tried to provoke a reaction in Tel Aviv.

“Only Ben Gvir,” a teenager shouted repeatedly, referring to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party. “Stupid boy,” replied an old lady as the rest of the crowd ignored him.

Israelis protest the government of Benjamin Netanyahu on January 14, 2023 in Tel Aviv. (Yonathan Sindel/Flash90)

On Friday, National Unity party leader Benny Gantz called on Israelis from across the political spectrum to join the Tel Aviv demonstration.

“I call on the entire Israeli community, from left to right, to protest to protect Israeli democracy. Making your voice heard at this time is a civic duty of the highest importance and not ‘civil disobedience’ like those trying to stifle the demonstration claim,” he said.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu dismissed criticism of the proposed judicial changes, a day after Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut warned against their taking effect.fatal blow” to the country’s democratic character.

On January 14, 2023, thousands of people protest against the Israeli government in Habima Square in Tel Aviv. (Yonathan Sindel/Flash90)

“We discussed this before the elections and we received a clear mandate from the public for this,” Netanyahu said in a video on Friday. “I suggest everyone to calm down and start a serious discussion.”

“When you say that the smallest reform is the destruction of democracy, this is not only a false claim, but also does not allow for agreements through substantive dialogue in the Knesset,” Netanyahu added.

Current and former judicial officials, as well as critics of the plans, which include Netanyahu’s political opponents, say Levy’s reforms would put basic civil and minority rights at risk by severely limiting the high court’s power to overturn laws and government decisions. Supporters of the changes argue that the courts have taken too much power and made decisions against the will of the voters.

Along with Gantz, a number of other politicians were expected to participate in the demonstration in Tel Aviv. Opposition leader Yair Lapid said Thursday he would not attend the protest after he and Gantz were told they would not be allowed to address the crowd.

Israelis protest against the government of Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said he would attend Friday’s event and urged anyone “interested in the state of Israel and its democratic character” to attend.

“If there is a water cannon, I will stand in front of it,” Huldai told Channel 12 news amid calls from National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir for police to take a tougher stance against protesters. “Protesting is the cornerstone of democracy,” added the mayor.

According to Kan and the Ynet news site, police have banned protesters from marching or blocking roads as a condition of allowing the rally to take place in Tel Aviv. Last week’s protest saw several marches, during which some demonstrators briefly blocked a major highway.

Channel 12 news reported that some protesters plan to march towards the Azrieli mall and block roads despite a police ban, which could lead to clashes with officers.

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