Tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated across the country on Monday for the second straight week against the government’s judicial overhaul, as the coalition passed the first reading of the bill to give the government control over judicial appointments and to block the High Court of Justice from ruling on Basic Laws.
Israelis of all ages across the country held a number of protests. They blocked major highways and interchanges across the country, including the road by Ben-Gurion Airport, Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv and other locations. Some 60,000 people attended the central protests outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, according to Hebrew media reports.
Speakers included former Likud justice minister Dan Meridor, chairwoman of the LGBTQ+ Association Hila Pe’er, former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, Reichman University’s Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty Prof. Yaniv Rosnai, Hod Hasharon Mayor Amir Kohavi and the first IDF female captain Ora Peled Nakash.
A group of protesters later attempted to break through the barricades in front of the Knesset building, just as the debate around the judicial reforms was scheduled to start inside the plenum. They were blocked by police, KAN News reported.
Additional protests were held by organizations across various sectors of Israeli life, including IDF reservists, school kids, healthcare professionals and more.
Many parents did not send their kids to school, but joined the march at 8 a.m. for parents and children organized by the No Education Without Democracy movement.
“We are fighting so that the education system in Israel will remain a liberal education system, the kind that advances equality, social justice, moral norms and pluralism,” said the movement. “Harming the independence of the justice system will end in harming the education system and the values it teaches.”
Earlier in the morning, protesters gathered outside the homes of various coalition MKs and tried to stop them from reaching the Knesset in an attempt to prevent the vote.
IDF reservists from the Brothers in Arms organization gathered outside Legislation Committee chairman MK Simcha Rothman’s home in Pnei Kedem, blocking access to his car and entrance to the settlement.
"This is what the new Israeli democracy looks like: Do not respect the majority, try to block votes, do not allow speech."Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Others demonstrated outside the home of Likud MK Tali Gottleib in Givat Shmuel, taping themselves to her building. Police arrested two protesters who were blocking her door. A video from Gottleib's building showed her telling protesters that she needed to take her daughter, who is autistic, to school – but the protesters told her to find someone else to do it because she wasn’t leaving the house.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid condemned the protesters’ behavior, saying “this isn’t our way. This is not the way of the protest. I send Tali strength and a hug to her daughter.”
Another point of the protest was in Ashkelon, where demonstrators gathered outside the home of Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter. Six protesters were arrested as a small group gathered outside Education Minister Yoav Kisch’s home in Ramat Gan and glued themselves down in the hallway.
The protests outside all four MKs’ homes were dispersed, and all MKs made it to the Knesset.
“When protesters prevent public representatives from going to the Knesset to vote and make an autistic girl miserable, that isn’t a legitimate protest,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The protesters talk about democracy, but they are putting an end to democracy when they prevent public representatives from exercising their basic democratic right – to vote.”
He added that they are “trampling democracy by not allowing Israel’s elected representatives to carry out their policy. They do not accept the outcome of the election, they do not accept the majority’s decision, they do not condemn calls to kill the prime minister and his family, they block roads and call for civil disobedience, they call without shame for a civil war and for blood in the streets, they threaten Knesset members aggressively.
“You talk above our heads in high terms of values, the rights of minorities and individuals, while they are trampling to dust the rights of a girl with special needs and the rights of an elected representative.”
Netanyahu's theater of the absurd
A number of leaders of the opposition parties criticized the government ahead of their respective faction meetings earlier on Monday.
“Tonight, the State of Israel will take its first step towards turning Israel into a non-democratic country,” Lapid said. “The government is bringing forward two laws to cancel Israeli democracy.”
He argued that the coalition was pretending to agree to talks, but that this was a lie. “There has not been true discourse on the terrible damage that [the reform] will cause to the economy and to each of our livelihoods, nor to the security dangers, nor to the fact that it is tearing the nation of Israel apart,” Lapid said.
"Tonight, the State of Israel will take its first step towards turning Israel into a non-democratic country."Opposition leader Yair Lapid
“This is no longer about Netanyahu’s trial, this is no longer about Deri’s disqualification. The coalition parties understand that if Israel stops being a democracy they can pass laws of religious coercion, they can annex territories and they can siphon off funds for themselves without anyone bothering them,” the opposition leader added.
National Unity chairman MK Benny Gantz, who up until now has been the opposition leader most keen on beginning talks, said that this was no longer an option. “What we are seeing now is not a wish to talk – but a blame game by those who are losing public opinion and are looking for a spin for a few days to decrease the pressure.
“The people who signed the Declaration of Independence are turning in their graves – history will judge Netanyahu. The Iranian threat is increasing – but they continue destroying our relations with the world. In Lod people are being killed – but they are fighting protesters instead of criminals. East Jerusalem is burning – but they are inflaming Israeli society. The inflation is rising – but they are trampling the High Court,” Gantz said.
Leader of the Labor Party MK Merav Michaeli called on Gantz and Lapid to completely stop the talks, calling them “a trap designed to weaken the protest” and adding that “there is neither good will nor good faith on the other side”
Yisrael Beytenu chair MK Avigdor Liberman criticized protesters calling for civil war, but also called on Gantz to stop considering talks. Netanyahu is known for breaking his word, so there is no point in considering an agreement, Liberman said.
Earlier on Monday, Israel Economic Association president Yossi Shpigel said during a debate in the Knesset Finance Committee on the reform’s effect on the economy that it will cause losses that amount to the entire budget of the country’s Welfare Ministry and half of its Health Ministry.
Shpigel added that he was “astounded” that nearly every academic economist in the country signed a letter a few weeks ago warning against the reform’s economic implications. Never had he seen such consensus amongst economists, including from the US, Shpigel said.
According to Shpigel, Israel’s debt is currently approximately one trillion shekels; a lowering in the country’s credit rating due to the reform would cause it to pay more interest on the debt – and if, say, the interest were to rise by 1%, it would cost the country NIS 10 billion – the equivalent of the Welfare Ministry’s entire budget.
In addition, Israel’s hi-tech sector could shrink by 10% due to the reform, according to Shpigel. This would cost the country in income the equivalent of half of the Health Ministry’s budget, he said.
A representative from the hi-tech sector added that its shrinking would first and foremost harm minority populations, as the first hi-tech workers to be laid off will be those that employers worked harder to employ – mostly from the haredi and Arab sectors.
The debate was held at the request of the committee’s opposition MKs. The MKs complained to committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni that no representatives from the Finance or Economy Ministries attended the discussion, despite being invited.
The coalition’s majority in the committee voted following the debate that it would not accept a resolution that the reform will damage Israel’s economy.