"We are slipping more and more towards civil war": renewed mass protests against judicial reform in Israel

“We are slipping more and more towards civil war”: renewed mass protests against judicial reform in Israel

According to local media, a good quarter of a million people in Israel have protested against the controversial judicial reform of the right-wing religious government.

In central Tel Aviv, demonstrators rallied for the 11th consecutive Saturday night with Israeli flags and protest signs. It read: “No to dictatorship” or “Israel is not yet Iran”. There were also protests in cities like Jerusalem and Beersheba.

This led to arrests and violent attacks by supporters of the reform on demonstrators.

Netanyahu fails to see ‘people falling apart’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that “anarchy will not be tolerated” in response to the protests. Nor will violence be allowed.

An Israeli mounted police officer confronts protesters during a rally in Tel Aviv March 16, 2023.

Opposition leader Jair Lapid wrote on Twitter that he condemned the “extreme increase in violence”. You will not silence the demonstrators.

One of the organizers of the protests, Eran Schwartz, warned of bloodshed in a radio interview. He accused government representatives of using targeted incitement to promote violence against demonstrators.

Netanyahu’s son Jair compared the participants in the protests to brown shirts.

Speaking to Israel’s Kan broadcaster, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned: “Unfortunately, we are sliding more and more towards civil war. We see the violence in the streets and it can continue to escalate.”

Unfortunately, we are slipping more and more in the direction of a civil war.

Benny Gantz, former secretary of defense

Netanyahu does not see “our people falling apart before our eyes”.

Judicial reform is considered controversial

For more than two months there have been massive protests against the government’s comprehensive legislative project. In the future, Parliament should be able to overrule decisions of the Supreme Court with a simple majority.

Politicians should be given significantly more influence in the appointment of judges. Critics see the separation of powers in danger and warn of a dangerous state crisis. The coalition wants to push through core elements of the reform by the end of the month.

Demonstrators gather in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2023 to protest against judicial reform for the eleventh consecutive week.
Demonstrators gather in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2023 to protest against judicial reform for the eleventh consecutive week.

Netanyahu immediately rejected a compromise proposal presented by Israeli President Izchak Herzog on Wednesday. It is unbalanced and only cements the current state.

The opposition backed the proposal. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a fair compromise that allows us to live here together,” said Lapid. In a civil war there are only losers. Herzog emphasized that the proposal was intended as a basis for talks.

According to media reports, the coalition could push through a somewhat “weakened version” of the reform even without a compromise.

Criticism of Netanyahu’s policies also from government circles

The first critical voices can also be heard within the government. MP David Bitan from Netanyahu’s Likud party called for a halt to the reform on the radio. It is within Netanyahu’s power to do so.

The protest movement is one of the largest in the history of Israel, a country of around 9.4 million people, and it spans broad sections of society.

Former domestic intelligence chief Nadav Argaman spoke out against the reform. He no longer trusts Netanyahu, he said on television. The head of government has lost all inhibitions, “he is racing towards the abyss”.

The former head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, Zeev Snir, warned in a letter to Netanyahu that the reform would endanger Israel’s existence. It harms Israel’s ability to confront arch-enemy Iran, he wrote to Netanyahu, who self-appointed him in 2015.

Elite officers failed to show up for duty

There is also increasing resistance from the army. Hundreds of elite military reserve officers failed to show up for duty on Sunday.

“We will gladly come back if democracy is guaranteed,” one of them told Israeli radio. He spoke of an attempted coup by the government. “We call for no more reserve duty in a dictatorship.” (dpa)

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