Israeli protesters during a rally against Binyamin Netanyahu’s new government in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2023. AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP
Benyamin Netanyahu’s return to power is also the resumption of weekly post-Shabbat demonstrations in Israel on Saturday night. In 2020, the mobilization against the prime minister accused of corruption had lasted for months; since the new far-right government was sworn in on December 29, 2022, it has been reborn even more massively. An unofficial census counted about 80,000 demonstrators on Saturday, January 14, up from 30,000 the previous week.
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Most focus their grievances on the judicial reform unveiled on January 4 by Keeper of the Seals, Yariv Levin. In particular, the new coalition plans to weaken the Supreme Court’s powers of scrutiny and to politicize the appointment of judges and legal advisers.
From Habima Square in the heart of Tel Aviv, the procession spilled out into the surrounding streets, a flood of white-and-blue Israeli flags amid thunderstorms. Former Supreme Court Justice Ayala Frocaccia was the first to lament the “beginning of a new era with a new definition of democracy: not a democracy based on values, but a reduced democracy based entirely on “the will of the electorate”. . .
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The opposition leaders behaved discreetly – at the request of the organizers, according to Haaretz newspaper, the outgoing Prime Minister Yaïr Lapid was absent. However, ex-Secretary of Defense Benny Gantz, who briefly formed a coalition with Netanyahu between 2020 and 2021, quickly grabbed the megaphone and promised to “use all legal means to avoid a coup d’état”. Other more limited demonstrations took place in Jerusalem and Haifa, a large city in the north of the country.
Fear of regime change
Saturday’s rally was the culmination of a week-long protest against judicial reforms that threaten to destabilize Israel’s institutional balance of power, including granting lawmakers the right to change laws with an absolute majority without the Supreme Court being able to effectively challenge it. The institution’s president, Esther Hayut, on Thursday, January 12, strongly condemned the government’s attempt to reduce the judiciary to a “silent institution”.
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“This is an unbridled attack on the justice system as if it represents an enemy that must be fought and destroyed,” the judge told a conference in Haifa. Such an appearance by the Chief Justice is unprecedented in Israel. Several hundred lawyers demonstrated against the reform and a dozen former prosecutors issued a letter of protest.
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