After facing months of demonstrations against the judicial overhaul plan, Netanyahu is now sending pro-government protestors to the streets, creating a national division that can endanger Israel’s democracy even more.
As months-long protests in Israel against the government’s judiciary overhaul plan are still ongoing, pro-government Israelis took to the streets of West Jerusalem this Thursday to show their approval and support for the controversial decision.
According to the Israeli media, an enormous rally with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators called the ‘Million March,’ was held in front of the Knesset this Thursday evening in support of the government’s planned judicial reforms, with over 1,000 buses bringing citizens from all over Israel to participate in the demonstration.
Police said that crowds at the demonstration at first reached 200,000 people. Later, as more and more people arrived, it was almost impossible to get through the crowds that poured in, filling all the streets around the Knesset, the organizers estimated close to 600,000 people.
Addressing the protestors, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a tweet the same day that “I thank the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who came to Jerusalem tonight to support our government. Your passion and patriotism move me deeply.”
Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Knesset Constitution Committee chairman MK Simcha Rothman, the architects of the judicial reform legislation, also addressed the pro-government demonstrators, as did numerous other politicians, and praised their presence in supporting the judiciary overhaul plan. This is while as said above, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been out in streets for months, protesting against the plan.
Demonstration organizer Berele Crombie stated that “the purpose of the demonstrations is to remind and demand from our elected officials in the government and the coalition that the people want judicial reform, that the people are behind them, that the people give them strength.”
What is the whole story about?
Ack in January this year, Israel’s far-right government pushed for changes that would limit the Supreme Court’s powers to rule against the legislature and the executive, while giving coalition lawmakers more power in appointing judges.
In Israel, supreme court judges are appointed and dismissed by a committee made up of professionals, lawmakers and some justices. Levin wants to give lawmakers a majority in the committee, with most coming from the rightwing and religiously conservative ruling coalition. Critics of the Supreme Court, including many in the coalition government, say the bench is left-leaning and elitist and has become too interventionist in the political sphere, while often putting minority rights before national interests
But those oppose to the changes believe that it would go against democratic values. “It will be a hollow democracy,” said Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at Jerusalem’s Israel Democracy Institute early in January, adding that “when the government has ultimate power, it will use this power not only for issues of LGBTQ rights and asylum seekers but elections and free speech and anything it wants.”
The Israeli government, however, is so serious and determined to implement the changes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over his opposition to the Judiciary overhaul, a move that prompted even more mass street protests and widespread strike actions across Israel.