Things got quite sour in Israel on Tuesday due to mass protests against legal reforms being imposed by the government this week. Highways were closed, tens of thousands marched to the international airport, and demonstrations took place in front of parliament and the US embassy.
The police intervened more forcefully than in previous protests: water cannons were used in major cities and at least 66 people were arrested. This is the first mass demonstration since the resignation of Tel Aviv Police Commissioner Ami Ashched. He left last week because the national security minister wanted to demote him: Escheid refused to intervene more forcefully in the demonstrations, because they are largely peaceful.
The plans of the far-right government have been blocked for several months by massive resistance, which is why Prime Minister Netanyahu has changed tactics: he is now trying to implement the hated reforms step by step. Late Monday evening, Parliament approved a bill in its first vote aimed at limiting the power of judges.
This relates to the criterion of “reasonableness”. Judges can now overrule the government’s plans if the Supreme Court finds them unreasonable. For example, because the new law places too much emphasis on the political interests of the coalition, or because minorities are not sufficiently taken into account.
Example: In January, the Supreme Court declared Aryeh Deri unfit for the post of minister. The courts have sentenced this man three times (for tax evasion), and according to the law you are not allowed to hold political office for seven years. Netanyahu was angry that Deri was one of his strongest and most loyal allies in the coalition, but still had to fire him. If the standard of reasonableness is abolished this week, it is likely that Deri will return to the cabinet soon.
The government and much of Israel believe these reforms are necessary. According to them, unelected judges should not veto plans that have a parliamentary majority. However, almost the other half of Israelis are adamantly opposed, because soon the government will be able to implement the most insane laws without anyone being able to slam on the brakes. Women and minorities in particular can fall victim to this.
The law does not apply to the government.
Opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid warned Monday at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, that repealing reasonableness means only one thing: that the law does not apply to the government. “They will soon be able to expel all the guards and replace them with obedient puppets who will not interfere if the government corrupts the country.”
However, the government does not intend to obey at the moment – neither to the opposition, nor to the demonstrators. Education Minister Yoav Kisch, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party, said Tuesday that “there is no surrender to this terror.”
In March, Netanyahu bowed to pressure. After hundreds of thousands took to the streets, the prime minister withdrew his proposals until further notice, and sat down with the opposition to negotiate. However, nothing came of this. This week’s demonstrations were not as violent as then, but they show the country remains deeply divided.
Protests in March gained support as unions joined in and many reservists threatened to stop showing up if reforms continued. It could happen again this time. Union leader Arnon Bar-David said on Tuesday that he would “intervene if Netanyahu does not stop the chaos.” Air Force reservists warned Monday that they “serve the kingdom, not the king.”
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