Three different seminal events occurred within one hour on Thursday night.
In his second “Speech to the Nation” regarding the judicial reforms, President Isaac Herzog used his harshest language yet, saying that they were “wrong, predatory and dismantle our democratic foundations,” and should be “removed from the world”; National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir announced that the Tel Aviv police chief, Ami Eshed, will be removed from his position in an upcoming round of appointments, after expressing his discontent with the “containment” of the blockage of the Ayalon Highway by protesters earlier in the day; and then the shooting terror attack in Tel Aviv.
Herzog’s speech quickly became background noise, as news outlets and politicians focused on the attack and on Ben-Gvir’s announcement, as well as his performance on national security since taking office.
Protests are about more than the reform
The quick barrage of events and the fact that Herzog’s speech was quickly forgotten symbolized a point that is slowly coming into focus: The protests are about a lot more than the judicial reform, and if and when the conflict surrounding the reform comes to an end – the protests may continue.
The protests first erupted after Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced the reform in January, but much has happened in the ensuing 10 weeks that have fueled the fury of protesters.
There is the list of controversial laws that the coalition is advancing. These include personal laws designed to evade judicial decisions – Deri Law I, which enabled Shas chairman MK Arye Deri to avoid a ruling over whether or not he was barred from serving as a minister due to a plea-bargain conviction in 2022; Deri Law II, aimed at barring the High Court from intervening in ministerial appointments, and designed to enable Netanyahu to reappoint Deri after the High Court struck down the appointment; the “Gifts Law,” which would enable the prime minister to receive funding for medical and legal purposes, including the approximately NIS 4 million that was raised via crowdfunding to pay his legal fees; and a provision to double the budget for the prime minister and his wife’s “attire,” as well as to pay for his wife’s expenses on conferences abroad.
There are also laws that irked many secular citizens: The Hametz Law, which allows hospital heads to bar leavened bread from entering hospitals during Passover; a law to broaden the jurisdiction of rabbinical courts; and others.
There are comments by coalition politicians: Support or hinted support for the settlers who rampaged in Huwara; statements such as Communication Minister Shlomo Karhi's "go to hell" to Israeli pilots who threatened not to continue voluntary reserve duty if the reform passes; the prime minister, national security minister and others calling the protesters anarchists; and much more.
And then there is Ben-Gvir’s conduct: Repeatedly calling for a harsher police response to the protests; the proposal and advancement of the Police Law, which would make the police commissioner subordinate to him; and now the most recent spat with Commissioner Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai over the decision to remove Eshed.
The judicial reforms were announced barely a week into the government’s tenure, and continue to be the focus of the government and protesters.
But in normal times, a large number of the laws, comments and events listed above could themselves have led to wide protests. The government has succeeded in conjuring up numerous other reasons for resentment, which may soon become a critical mass that will eclipse even the resentment towards the judicial reform itself.
The Balfour protests during Netanyahu’s previous tenure as prime minister continued for 11 months. The current wave could too.