blurred image of protesters in Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been targeted in widespread protests across the country over his judicial reform plans, said for weeks that his government is making good on its campaign promise of overhauling the country’s judiciary that critics say has become too left-leaning. 

Last week, Netanyahu’s effort was bolstered by pro-government protesters who held a rally in favor of the judicial reforms—exposing the divide in the country that some warn could lead to a civil war.  

“We want this reform, parts of it have to pass,” one middle-aged woman from Tel Aviv told the Financial Times. “We voted for this government to do what it promised, and the left won’t dictate to us.”

TRENDPOSTThe Trends Journal has reported extensively on how Netanyahu’s government’s attempt to overhaul the country’s judicial system that critics say weakens the judiciary and gives lawmakers more power. (See “NETANYAHU BENDS, MAKES AMENDMENTS TO JUDICIAL OVERHAUL” 21 Mar 2023, “FRACTURES WITH AMERICAN JEWS EMERGE AFTER NETANYAHU’S JUDICIAL POWER-GRAB” 4 Apr 2023, and “AUSTIN’S MEETING WITH NETANYAHU HAD TO BE RELOCATED AMID PROTESTS” 14 Mar 2023.)

The FT, citing recent polls in the country, noted that about 60 percent of the public is opposed to the reforms. 

Yariv Levin, the justice minister spearheading the reforms, told the crowd of protesters in Jerusalem on Thursday that over 2 million people voted in the election in favor of a government to seek these reforms. 

He blasted Israel’s High Court and said the country needs a court that “protects IDF soldiers and not the terrorists’ neighbors.”

Levin wants lawmakers to be able to override Supreme Court decisions. 

The country’s judges are currently nominated by other judges, but Levin wants the Knesset to take over these nominations. The Knesset would also be able to overrule court decisions with a simple majority. Critics have called out Netanyahu’s hardline government for proposing an “unbridled attack on the justice system” and said the proposal would give the government a “blank check” to pass laws.

The organizers of anti-overhaul rallies, which have taken place every week, told The Times of Israel that they will be “intensifying the protests” and soon “announce new measures to stop the oncoming dictatorship.”

These anti-reform protesters took to the streets in Tel Aviv on Saturday. 

Channel 13 news, citing Crowd Solutions, reported that around 200,000 people were gathered at the main protest in Tel Aviv. Other protests took place and attracted tens of thousands. 

One of the main issues for these protesters was another plan by the hardline government to exempt ultra-Orthodox men from the country’s mandatory military service, the report said.

“The days in which one side serves the state and also finances the yeshivas, while [the government] tries to establish a halachic (religious law) dictatorship here, are over,” the protesters said, according to The Times of Israel report.

Yair Lapid, the former prime minister and opposition leader, told rally goers that Levin essentially “declared war on the Supreme Court.” 

Netanyahu has called the reforms sensible and actually help preserve democracy from a judiciary that wants to make its own laws instead of enforce them. Netanyahu has accused opposition leaders of “dragging the country into anarchy.”

Netanyahu announced in March a “pause” to allow for more debate on the reforms after intense pressure from protesters and world leaders like U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

TRENDPOST: The Trends Journal has noted that the move to weaken the judiciary has pushed the country to the brink of civil war, and there seems to be no immediate off-ramp. (See “ISRAEL ON BRINK OF CIVIL WAR” 14 Feb 2023 and “NETANYAHU’S COALITION MAKES DEAL WITH CONVICTED RACIST TO STAMP DOWN PALESTINIANS” 29 Nov 2022.)

YouTube video emerged earlier this year that showed Rabbi Sharon Brous giving a speech about the dangers of the judicial overhaul. A senior rabbi of IKAR, a Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, she warned that the Jewish State could be ready for a revolution and that nobody should be surprised by the lurch to illiberalism and ultranationalism.

Isaac Herzog, Israel’s president, warned Israelis last month that the country is in the “throes of a profound crisis.” 

“Anyone who thinks that a real civil war, of human life, is a line that we will not reach has no idea. The abyss is within touching distance,” he said. 

Benny Gantz, the leader of the National Unity party, said in January that the reform plan will lead to “civil war.”

The Times of Israel reported at the time that Gantz warned that the plan will “have a fatal impact on national security—both in the sense of the resilience of citizens from all parts of society, and in the ability of the High Court of Justice and the legal system to be our legal iron dome vis-à-vis the world.” 

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