JERUSALEM – MARCH 27: Israelis, carrying Israeli flags and anti-government placards, gather outside the Knesset to protests against the Israeli government’s plan to introduce judicial changes.
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The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu survived a no-confidence vote in the Knesset, the country’s parliament, amid what is possibly the largest wave of demonstrations in Israel’s history.
Mass protests are rocking Israel, and the country’s largest labor union announced a major strike Monday in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s months-long attempt to push through widely-derided judicial reforms that opponents say will pull the country toward an autocracy.
“Stop this judicial process before it is too late,” Arnon Bar-David, Israel’s Histadrut union leader, said in a televised speech, addressing Netanyahu directly. Histadrut — which at 800,000 members represents the majority of Israel’s trade unionists — declared a “historic” general strike to “stop this judicial revolution, this craziness,” Bar-David said.
Minister of Security Itamar Ben Gvir on Monday said the government must proceed with the reforms.
“The reform of the justice system must not be stopped and we must not surrender to anarchy,” he said on Twitter, according to a Google translation.
Minister of Justice Yariv Levin pledged his support for any decision Netanyahu takes regarding the judicial overhaul, according to Reuters.
“A situation in which everyone does as they wish is liable to bring about the instant fall of the government and collapse of the (ruling party) Likud,” Levin said. “We must all strive to stabilise the government and coalition.”
Flights out of Israel’s Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv have been suspended, as airport workers go on strike, and laborers at Haifa and Ashdod ports — the two largest ports in Israel — have also stopped working. McDonald’s Israel says it has closed branches as part of the strike action.
Israel’s largest bank Leumi is closing branches as part of the judicial reform protest, Reuters reports.
Demonstrations have taken place across Israel for the last four months, sparked by anger at controversial judicial reforms pushed by Netanyahu’s government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history. The planned overhaul would significantly weaken the country’s judiciary and make it harder to remove Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, from power.
The proposed reforms would award executive control over appointing judges to the Supreme Court, as well as entitle the government to supersede court rulings through parliamentary majority.
Monday’s demonstrations took on a new fervor and are reported to be the biggest yet, triggered by Netanyahu’s firing of his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for speaking out against the planned measures. Local news outlets are reporting that a whopping 600,000 people have come out to protest across the country.
“600,000 demonstrating is an extraordinary figure. It means approx 6.5% of Israel’s population is out protesting tonight, many having literally woken up from their beds when they heard Bibi fired Gallant,” Monica Marks, a Middle East politics professor at NYU Abu Dhabi, wrote on Twitter. “When was the last time 6+% of any country protested? Genuine question.”
Netanyahu has labelled the protests an attempt “to create anarchy” and trigger another election. A deeply divided Israel has held five snap elections since April 2019.
“We’ve never been closer to falling apart,” Israel’s former Prime Minister Yair Lapid told lawmakers on Monday.
“What’s happened here in the past 24 hours is madness, it is a loss of control and a loss of direction… It is proof that this government has lost its brakes,” he said, calling on Netanyahu to walk back his firing of his defense minister.
“It is a danger to the state of Israel, it is a danger to the security of Israel. Our home is in danger,” Lapid added.
Earlier on Monday, President Isaac Herzog — whose position is largely ceremonial and apolitical — took to Twitter to call on the administration to interrupt its judicial review.
“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of the responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” he said, according to a Google translation.
“I appeal to the heads of all Knesset factions, coalition and opposition alike, to put the citizens of the country above all else, and to act responsibly and courageously without further delay. Come to your senses now! This is not a political moment, this is a moment for leadership and responsibility.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office announced the dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had opposed the motion, escalating protests.
“We must all stand up strongly against refusals,” Netanyahu said on Twitter around the time of the announcement, without directly referencing Gallant.