Tuesday, March 28, 2023

What is going on in Israel? Far-Right Government in Crisis, General Strike and Mass Protests

Beset by three months of unprecedented protests against his nationalist-religious coalition's signature plan to overhaul the judiciary, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday hit the pause button and called for compromise negotiations.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities across Israel in a spontaneous outburst of anger on Sunday after Netanyahu fired his defense minister for challenging his judicial overhaul plan.
Protesters in Tel Aviv blocked a main highway late on Sunday and lit large bonfires, while police scuffled with protesters who gathered outside Netanyahu’s private home in Jerusalem. Clashes were reported in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beer Sheva, Pardes Hana and other localities as police moved in to clear highways and routes.

“What the government wants to do is not to correct or to fix or amend the judicial system, so that it will be more just. Exactly the opposite. They want to take control over the judicial system,” said MK Ofer Cassif. “I think that we should refer to the situation not as a judicial overhaul, but as a regime coup,” he told Al Jazeera. “Netanyahu wants to turn Israel from an ethnocracy – because Israel in my view has never been a democracy, because this state is based on a Jewish supremacy, so it cannot be regarded as a democracy from the first place – but it’s going to be under the coup that the government wants to pursue, Israel is going to turn into a full-fledged fascist dictatorship.”

On Monday morning, Histadrut Secretary General Arnon Bar-David has called an immediate general strike until the judicial overhaul is halted. In a dramatic statement this morning Bar-David said, “This is an historic strike in which workers and employers will together halt the judicial overhaul.” The strike has quickly snowballed. All takeoffs have been stopped at Ben Gurion airport and many shopping malls have shut down. Many businesses especially in the tech sector have joined the strike and banks and local authorities are also striking.

Speaking to during a demonstration near the Histadrut headquarters in Tel-Aviv on Monday morning, protester and former Histadrut leading member, Efraim Davidi said: “Benjamin Netanyahu must go home. This judicial overhaul has to stop – it has to be thrown off the table and never to be spoken of again.” “We must fight against fascism and for a truly democracy, without racism, without class exploitation and without occupation”, he said to hundreds of protesters. “We have been seeing in the past few days that the person who is responsible for allowing this group of extremists to try to turn Israel into a fascist dictatorship is Benjamin Netanyahu,” added.

Following a special meeting held on Sunday night by the heads of the universities in Israel, it was decided that the research institutions in Israel will halt classes starting on Monday morning. “We, the heads of Israel’s research universities, presidents, rectors and administrations, will stop studies in all of Israel’s research universities starting tomorrow morning, against the background of the continuation of the legislative process that undermines the foundations of Israeli democracy and endangers its continued existence,” said a statement published by the heads of the universities. Following the announcement, a long list of colleges decided to join the universities, among them Bezalel, the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, Ruppin Academic Center, Tel-Hai Academic College, the College of Management Academic Studies and Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art. In adittion, the National Student and Youth Council, representing high school and middle school students, declares a nationwide strike. The council calls for “halting the overhaul legislation.”

Hundreds of Thousands Join Nationwide Protests, Declare ‘Week of Paralysis’

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis took part in nationwide rallies Saturday evening for the 12th straight week of mass protests. Protest organizers claimed that in total, over 630,000 people attended the rallies. Thousands of Anti-Occupation Bloc activists, among them Hadash and Communist Party of Israel members, rallied on Saturday night in 11 locations: Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Herzliya, Beer Sheva, Netanya, Kfar Saba, Carmiel, Hod Hasharon, Hagomeh Junction in the Northern Galilee and Pardes Hanna–Karkur.  

The main demonstration was held in Tel Aviv, where some 200,000 were estimated to attend the main rally held on the coastal city’s Kaplan Street. Later thousands of protesters ran onto the Ayalon Highway, blocking traffic for several hours. Police used water cannons to disperse the protesters, 32 of whom were detained as officers attempted to clear them from the road.

On Route 65 in northern Israel, police said protesters were detained for disorderly conduct, including hurling flares, as hundreds blocked the Karkur Junction. A legal aid group said nine were arrested in that demonstration In Or Akiva, near Hadera, several thousand anti-overhaul protesters and a smaller number of the legislation’s supporters faced off against each other, in a heated encounter that ended in three arrests for alleged violence. The event in Or Akiva, where Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won a whopping 47% of the votes last election, ended without injury or damage, police said. Three were arrested in Jerusalem, putting the total number of arrests across the country at 44.

Protesters declared on Saturday night a nationwide “week of paralysis” that will begin today (Sunday), after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the government would pass a core tenet of the legislation in the coming days. Escalating nationwide protests have roiled the country since the government announced its plans to severely curtain the judiciary in early January. In addition to the public demonstrations, a growing number of military reservists have vowed to halt or already stopped their service over the legislation, sparking deep fears in the security establishment for the country’s future.

Protest leaders declared plans for targeted demonstrations against ministers and MKs on Sunday and Monday, and vowed mass rallies in “days of paralysis” on Wednesday and Thursday, including a giant protest at the Knesset in Jerusalem. “We’re going into the most fateful week in the history of Israel,” protest leaders said in a statement. “Facing the attempt to turn Israel into a dictatorship, millions will take to the streets,” the statement said. “Every citizen who wants to live in a democracy must come out to the streets and oppose the dictatorship at all costs.”

Protesters held a nationwide “day of paralysis” on last Thursday. Police arrested at least 92 people across the country, and deployed horses and water cannons to clear demonstrators blocking roads in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The protests have also followed ministers abroad, including rallies against Netanyahu in London on Friday. Hundreds of Israeli ex-pats gathered outside his hotel and outside 10 Downing Street when Netanyahu arrived for his meeting with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The protesters chanted “de-mo-cra-cy” and “shame” as Netanyahu approached the British prime minister’s residence.

On Friday, 200 Israeli Air Force pilots, 100 doctors in the military reserves and dozens of personnel from the prestigious Unit 8200 intelligence branch said they will refuse service in protest, joining thousands of other military members who have already made that vow, or stopped showing up for service. The military protesters include some of the most elite service members, including senior combat pilots.

Key points of the Government's plan

The proposed changes would limit the Supreme Court’s powers to rule against the legislature and the executive, giving the Israeli parliament (Knesset) the power to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of 61 votes out of 120.

A second proposal would take away the Supreme Court’s authority to review the legality of Israel’s Basic Laws, which function as the country’s constitution.

The reforms would also change how Supreme Court justices are selected, giving politicians decisive powers in appointing judges.

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