Israel: Roads blocked and businesses shut down ahead of key judicial vote

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  July 24, 2023

Police fire water cannons to disperse protesters, as Joe Biden calls on Israel not to rush ‘divisive’ reforms.

Israeli police used water cannons on protesters blocking roads leading to the parliament building in Jerusalem, as tensions mount ahead of a key vote in the government’s controversial judicial overhaul. 

Demonstrators wielding Israeli flags shut off streets near the Knesset building on Monday, with some chaining themselves to one other. 

Footage shared on social media showed firefighters using electric handsaws to break up the human chain of demonstrators, while security officers were seen forcefully removing others.

Two protesters were hospitalized after water cannons struck them in the head and neck, according to Haaretz

The demonstrations come as parliament sits for the final readings of a key bill in the government’s controversial judicial reforms on Monday.

The bill would see the abolition of the “reasonableness standard”, eliminating the Supreme Court’s ability to block government decisions it deems unreasonable.

It’s part of a package of bills proposed by the government earlier this year, which is seeking to overhaul the judicial system in the country. 

Proponents of the plan say it is necessary to restore the balance of power between government branches. 

Opponents say it will remove checks and balances and undermine the independence of the judicial system. 

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden called on Israel not to rush the “divisive” reforms. 

“It looks like the current judicial reform proposal is becoming more divisive, not less,” Biden told Axios on Sunday. 

“Given the range of threats and challenges confronting Israel right now, it doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush this – the focus should be on pulling people together and finding consensus.”

Businesses go on strike

Scores of petrol stations and shopping centres, among other businesses, were shut on Monday after the Israeli Business Forum decided to suspend business activity over the judicial reforms. 

The forum represents some of the country’s biggest corporations and banks. 

“We call on the prime minister to fulfill his duty and to understand the magnitude of the disaster that may occur,” it said. 

Poll results reported by national broadcaster Kan found that 46 percent of Israelis opposed the amendment, while 35 percent were in favour and 19 percent undecided. 

Tens of thousands of Israeli protesters set off on a march to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv last week, reaching the Knesset building ahead of the vote.

“I have no choice,” Osnat Maimon, a participant in the march, told Middle East Eye last week. “It’s hard to walk in the sun and it’s hard to leave my kids at home, but I have no other choice.”

Demonstrations and strikes have taken place regularly since January in a bid to force the government to halt its judicial plan. 

Protesters were given a boost recently after hundreds of reservist soldiers joined their calls. 

On Friday, more than 1,100 Israeli Air Force reservists, including over 400 pilots, said in an unprecedented letter that they would suspend their volunteer reserve duty if the government plan was not scrapped. 

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the threat of reservists not showing up for duty, saying it was “akin to the destruction of democracy”.

“It cannot be the case that a group within the army threatens an elected government by saying that ‘if you don’t act as we like, we will stop defending the country’,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu was discharged from hospital following an operation to fit him with a pacemaker. 

He was admitted to Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv on Saturday night after doctors said a heart monitor had detected “temporary arrhythmia”.