Israeli opposition seeking dialogue as judicial reform protests continue

Thomas Helm

The National  /  July 6, 2023

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faced demonstrations across the country just as the Israeli military ended the biggest incursion into the West Bank in decades.

Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to revive negotiations over government plans for controversial legal reforms.

Mr Gantz called on the Prime Minister to return to dialogue “for [the sake] of the integrity of the people of Israel and the prevention of bloodshed”.

The proposed reforms, first introduced in January, would drastically reduce the ability of the judiciary to challenge laws passed by parliament. Critics of the program say it would deal a terminal blow to Israeli democracy and render judicial oversight largely pointless.

Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party responded to Mr Gantz’s comments by saying he is not serious about compromise, describing the politician as “unwilling or unable to reach any agreements”.

“His whole purpose is to waste more time,” the party added.

Mr Gantz’s call for negotiations comes after the government advanced key bills in the reform package this week in a manner that the opposition has described as “unilateral”.

Tension over the issue is rising this week after massive anti-government demonstrations rocked cities across the country, sparked by what participants view as the unfair treatment of Tel Aviv’s police chief Amichai Eshed, who resigned on Wednesday.

Mr Eshed said he was removed from his post for refusing to use “disproportionate force” against protesters.

“I am paying an intolerably heavy personal price for my choice to avert a civil war,” he added.

The previous police chief has been at loggerheads with far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a proponent of the judicial reforms who has called for greater use of force against demonstrators.

Mr Ben-Gvir has described the demonstrators as “anarchists” on a number of occasions.

Wednesday evening’s protests, during which 24 arrests were made, carried on into Thursday, with anger also directed at the government’s plan for judicial reform.

Police released detainees on Thursday, although some were banned from attending demonstrations for two months.

Roads were blocked throughout the country on Wednesday, and a driver stuck in Tel Aviv was filmed ramming through demonstrators, injuring at least one before being arrested by police.

Medics also criticised the police for their use of water cannons, which they said caused a number of serious injuries.

About 200 demonstrators blocked a motorway in Tel Aviv during Thursday morning rush hour, with others amassing around the homes of government ministers.

Thousands of demonstrators blocked roads to the country’s main airport earlier this week. Hundreds then broke into the arrivals hall, calling for “democracy”.

Leaders of the movement have also promised that a “protest such has never been seen before in Israel” will take place next Tuesday.

“If this legislation passes, Israel will be on a clear path to become a fanatical and extreme dictatorship,” they added.

Political tension has been high in Israel, as protesters ramp up action during a week that has also seen one of the largest Israeli military incursions in decades in the occupied West Bank, a terror attack in Tel Aviv, and brief episodes of rocket fire from Gaza and Lebanon.

On Thursday, Israel’s military said it had responded with artillery fire after a rocket was launched from southern Lebanon into its territory.

A statement said the rocket “exploded adjacent to the Blue Line in Israeli territory”, referring to the UN-demarcated frontier between the states.

Lebanon’s state news agency reported that more than 15 Israeli shells had hit the outskirts of the Lebanese villages of Kfar Shouba and Halta.

There was no claim of responsibility for the reported rocket fire from Lebanon. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he was following up on the issue with the Lebanese military.

An Israeli was also killed on Thursday near a settlement in the occupied West Bank, Israel’s ambulance service said. The Palestinian assailant was shot and killed by Israeli forces.

The attack took place about 10km from the city of Jenin, where the two-day large-scale military operation took place this week.

Hamas praised the shooting of the soldier, which it described as being “within the framework of the continuous response” to Israel’s “aggressive” operations.

Thomas Helm is Jerusalem Correspondent at The National