Netanyahu: November elections were 'the mother of all protests'

Netanyahu's comment came in response to the protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night of approximately 80,000 people.

 Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference with Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich (unseen) at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference with Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich (unseen) at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Millions of people participated two-and-a-half months ago in the "mother of all protests" – the national election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Netanyahu's comment came in response to the protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night of approximately 80,000 people against his government's proposed judicial reforms.

The prime minister rejected the claim that the Likud had not clearly stated its plans for the legal system during the election campaign, and quoted himself saying during the campaign that "we will do the necessary changes of the legal system with level-headedness and responsibility."

"My friends and I, many of whom are sitting around this table, said this countless times, and millions of voters for the right-wing camp knew about the intention to carry out a widespread reform of the judicial system," Netanyahu said.

The prime minister added that a long list of ministers from "all political camps" called for this reform over the years. These included Tomi Lapid, father of opposition leader and previous prime minister MK Yair Lapid; Yaakov Ne'eman; Haim Ramon; Daniel Friedman; and "many others," he added.

 Thousands of Israelis protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, on haBima square in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2023.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Thousands of Israelis protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, on haBima square in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2023. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

"These things were said by right-wing and left-wing governments, and no one then thought to say it was the 'end of democracy.' The truth of the matter is, what we are attempting to do Is return the balance between the branches of government that existed for 50 years, and which exists today in all Western democracies."

Netanyahu called for "deep, serious, relevant" debate, and not to be swept into "inflammatory slogans of civil war and destruction of the country."

"I have to say that when we were in the opposition, we did not call for civil war or speak about the country's destruction, even when the government carried out decisions that we fiercely opposed, and I expected the heads of the opposition to behave in the same way," Netanyahu added.

"I am convinced that when we finish the deep and important dialogue in the Knesset Constitution Committee, we will conclude the legislation of the reform in a way that will fix what needs fixing, fully defend individual rights and return the public's trust to eh judicial system, which needs this reform so much," he concluded.

Earlier on Sunday, Lapid called in an interview on Ynet for a referendum on the issue.

"I have a proposal for them: They say the people are with them? Let's have a referendum on this before deciding. It's reasonable that before we decide to turn Israel from a democracy into a non-democratic state - we will go to the people and ask them, right?" Lapid said.

"I saw the responses from the coalition's leaders, that the 'people are with us,'" Lapid continued. "The people are not with them, because this is not what was said to them before the election. They were told something else entirely. They did not go to vote and say 'we are going to vote that Israel ceases to remain a democratic state, that Israel ceases to be a state where free speech is allowed.' Just last week members of the coalition said that I should be arrested for speaking against the government.

"If you think this will not reach you too – you are wrong. This is not a judicial reform, but the ruin of the legal system which immediately will lead to the destruction of Israeli democracy. If this reform passes Israel will no longer be democratic, and since I want to live in a democracy – I will fight over it," the former prime minister concluded.