Israelis opposed to the government's planned judicial overhaul protest in Jerusalem on 22 July 2023. EFE/Sara Gomez Armas

More than half-a-million Israelis protest judicial overhaul

By Sara Gomez Armas

Tens of thousands of flag-waving Israelis gather in Jerusalem on 22 July 2023 to protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul. EFE/ABIR SULTAN

Jerusalem, Jul 22 (EFE).- More than 550,000 people, according to organizers, took to the streets of Israel’s cities Saturday to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to limit the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down legislation that contravenes the country’s Basic Laws.

Thousands of Israelis march toward Jerusalem on 22 July 2023 to protest the government's planned judicial overhaul. EFE/EPA/ABIR SULTAN

Some 220,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv, while a record crowd exceeding 100,000 protested in Jerusalem in front of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, a day before the start of debate on the first part of the proposed judicial overhaul.

Turnout was 45,000 in Haifa, the country’s third-most-populous metropolitan area after Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, while 30,000 people demonstrated in Netanya.

Around 20,000 people who set out on foot for Jerusalem from Tel Aviv four days ago were met in the Holy City by tens of thousands more.

Waving Israeli flags, the multitude chanted “democracy” and denunciations of the “dictator Netanyahu.”

“I joined because we believe that we have to fight against this regime change in Israel. They are changing the rules of democracy,” airline pilot Ayal Yafe told EFE, explaining his decision to take part in the march to Jerusalem.

The Students Protest group erected tents at a park near the Knesset and vowed to remain there “until the legislation is stopped.”

Lawmakers are expected to vote as early as Monday on what Netanyahu calls the “reasonableness” bill, which would allow the Supreme Court to review legislation and government action that falls outside the scope of “reasonableness.”

The parties making up the most right-wing government in Israel’s history enjoy a comfortable majority in the Knesset.

“As the opposition in parliament can’t stop this process, we citizens are exercising pressure in the streets,” Argentine-born Nalon told EFE, adding that the Israel he found when he immigrated here 35 years ago is “very different to the one of today.”

“It’s going to change totally what Israel is,” his wife, Veret, said. “If they want to reform the judiciary they should do it will of the people in agreement. The way they are doing it is a disaster. It’s going to bring a civil war.”

Besides restricting the authority of the Supreme Court to determine whether legislation and government actions contravene Israel’s Basic Laws, the overhaul would give politicians effective control over judicial appointments.

During seven months of protests, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists have emerged as a major pole of opposition to the reform.

The Brothers in Arms reservists organization said that 10,000 of its members – including intelligence and cyberwar specialists – plan to stop reporting for volunteer duty if the overhaul is passed.

Upwards of 1,100 active-duty IDF pilots said Friday that they will not participate in training or drills until the legislation is stopped.

And Saturday saw 125 former senior military and security officials, including ex-chiefs of the IDF, the Mossad spy agency, and the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, send a letter to Netanyahu expressing solidarity with the dissident soldiers and pilots.

The signatories, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak among them, held Netanyahu “directly responsible for the serious harm” to Israel’s security and accused him of “completely ignoring the harm to Israeli democracy” from the legislation.

In late March, the unease in the IDF prompted Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to call publicly for the reform legislation to be halted.

Netanyahu initially reacted by firing Gallant, but a labor strike and protests that shut down Israel’s main international airport convinced the prime minister to reinstate the defense minister, put the overhaul on hold, and enter talks with the opposition mediated by President Isaac Herzog.

But those negotiations broke down last month and the government decided to go forward with the judicial reform. EFE sga/dr