Israel: Huge protests across country as MPs meet to progress ‘judicial coup’ reforms

Oren Ziv

Middle East Eye  /  February 20, 2023

An estimated 100,000 protesters gather outside parliament against controversial legislation brought by Netanyahu’s far-right government.

With Israel’s parliament on the verge of voting through a raft of bills that would upend the judiciary and dismantle democratic safeguards, thousands of Israelis gathered on Monday in protest across the country.

The most significant demonstration is being held in Jerusalem outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, where MPs are set to pass amendments to highly controversial laws that would allow them to overturn a High Court judgement with a simple majority, among other significant changes. Israeli media estimated 100,000 people massed there.

Hours before MPs started gathering, dozens of demonstrations and roadblocks appeared from the Negev in the south to the Galilee in the north. Key highways in Tel Aviv and elsewhere were forced to shut.

The houses of two MPs belonging to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, Tali Gottlieb and Yoav Kish, were also blockaded in the central cities of Ramat Gan and Givat Shmuel. Police officers who arrived at the scene detained eight protesters for questioning.

Outside Gottlieb’s house, one protester said: “We came today to make it clear to her that she will not destroy our future, we are ready to do whatever it takes to stop this coup.”

Similarly at sunrise, dozens of protesters headed to the Pnei Kedem illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank, where far-right Religious Zionism party MP Simcha Rothman, architect of the bill, lives.

Protesters have flown thousands of Israeli flags and stop signs symbolizing their wish for the judicial reforms, denounced as a coup by their opponents, to be halted.

Itamar Ben Gvir, the far-right national security minister, described the protests as “riots by anarchists”.

“Freedom of expression yes, anarchy no. We must preserve the texture of life and not allow anarchists to paralyze the state,” he said.

On Monday, members of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee deliberated on the amendments before putting them to MPs later in the evening. One of the amendments would allow the High Court to only annul a law if all 15 justices rule the same way and if it clearly violates one of Israel’s basic laws, which have a quasi-constitutional status.

If passed, which is expected, it would be a significant milestone on the route towards ultimately passing the highly controversial legislation.

Gilad Gerber, a demonstrator in Jerusalem, told Middle East Eye: “I came to save the country to fight in the army in ’73.

“The state is on the slide. We have the examples of Poland, Hungary and Turkey where as soon as politicians overrule the judges we know where it will lead,” he added. “A corrupt prime minister did everything to destroy the country.”

Another protester, Gabriella, who wanted to be identified by her first name only, said: “I came because I worry about what’s going to be here. I feel that this is an emergency.”

Like many on the left or supportive of the Palestinian cause, Gabriella feels Israel does not have a proper democracy anyway. “But also what remains will disappear.

“I think demonstrations are influential but will not stop the coup,” she added. “Demonstrations will not stop them even though it creates pressure on the government.”

Hagit Eisenberg, 54, told MEE he believes doing nothing isn’t an option.

“The country has been kidnapped by a bunch of criminals for a long time and now they have peaked,” he said.

Weekly protests drawing tens of thousands of Israelis have railed against the new far-right government’s plans for several weeks now. Eisenberg said he has tried to attend as many as he could.

“I did what I can to go to every demonstration every week… This is the first time that I have been so politically active.”