Judicial overhaul protesters simply want to burn down the house and bring down the government, sending the country into a sixth election cycle, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday.
“The extreme and dangerous group that organizes [the protests] just wants to burn down the house and create chaos in the country,” he said as he addressed the weekly government session in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu spoke as the country headed into its tenth week of protests against Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s legislation to overhaul the judiciary. Proponents argued that it would strengthen Israel’s democracy, while its opponents have warned it would weaken democracy and possibly turn the country into a dictatorship.
Protesters want to “trample on the results of a democratic election in which millions of citizens voted just a few months ago,” Netanyahu said.
“They want to overthrow the government, bringing about a constitutional crisis with the intention that this will lead to sixth elections. That’s their real goal,” he continued. “I think they simply can’t wrap their heads around the simple fact that the voters chose us and not them,” he said.
Netanyahu calls out protester tactics
Netanyahu took issue with the tactics by which some protesters blocked roads, acted violently toward the police and called for IDF soldiers and officers to refuse to serve. He also mentioned the incident last week in which protesters prevented his wife, Sara, from leaving a hair salon in Tel Aviv.
The government and the country’s legal establishment have long opposed road blockages, Netanyahu said. He recalled that former attorney-general Menachem “Meni” Mazuz had stated close to 20 years ago, when activists were upset at the disengagement from Gaza, that those who blocked roads should be sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Netanyahu quoted statements made by Yair Lapid, currently the opposition leader, 20 years ago against road blockages, when he warned that someone would die when their ambulance was stuck in traffic as a result. He also took a swipe at comments by former IDF chiefs of staff.
“When former generals, rejected by the electorate, call for a refusal to obey orders, for a revolt and violence – this is not the preservation of democracy, it is the thwarting of democracy,” Netanyahu said.
He pointed to comments that former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz made, in which he compared Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.
“This is not legitimate criticism, it is open incitement to murder,” Netanyahu said.
Most of the protesters are loyal Israeli citizens who don’t know all the details of the reform, but their leaders understand very well that it will only improve democracy by restoring a judicial balance between the branches of government, Netanyahu said.
“The extremists who lead the demonstrations know the truth,” he said, as he called on those leaders to sit down and discuss the reform.
Lapid and others in his camp have refused to do so unless Levin halts the advancement of the legislation to allow time for debate. Levin, however, has insisted that the legislation would move forward even if talks to arrive at consensus legislation were held.
Netanyahu called on opponents of the reform to hold discussions anyway.
“For eight weeks, two whole months, they stubbornly refuse to discuss even a comma in the reform. Now, think where we could all be if our call had been answered two months ago, I believe we would already have an [consensus] agreement,” he said.
“There was time to talk, and there is still time to talk – so let’s not waste any more time,” he said.