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Israel Democracy Protests Continue

Erel Margalit

Erel Margalit leading protest in Jerusalem – signs says “democracy” in Hebrew (photo from Erel Margalit)

The protests and strikes are continuing in Israel in an attempt to stop the passage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government’s proposed judicial reform plan. Now, Erel Margalit, chairman of Israel’s VC firm Jerusalem Venture Partners and Margalit Startup City, led a march of hi-tech leaders and startups from their headquarters in Jerusalem to join the mass protest held Monday outside the Knesset.

The protests are continuing after the President of Israel Isaac Herzog, in a dramatic move, addressed the nation Sunday night calling for calm and even going so far as to state that the current heated political divisions in Israel are causing him “great pain.” The President’s speech could even be described as historic considering that in Israel the presidency is mainly a ceremonial position and the President traditionally does not involve himself in politics.

President Herzog spoke from printed pages and not a teleprompter, suggesting that the speech was not finished in time for one to be prepared, or that the address to the nation itself was rushed. Herzog basically acknowledged that the government’s concerns about the expansion of the Supreme Court’s authorities at the expense of the sovereignty of the democratically elected government and Knesset are legitimate and also recognized a need to change the system by which Supreme Court justice – and other higher court judges – are selected. This is noteworthy since President Herzog was a onetime leader of the left-wing Labor Party, a party currently condemning the proposed reforms.

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But Herzog also criticized the government for pushing through the judicial reforms in a one sided manner without consulting with the opposition about it. He also said that a simple majority vote of 61 out of 120 members of the Knesset – an absolute majority as opposed to just a majority of those voting – is not enough to pass what in Israel are known as “Basic Laws.” This is because such laws affect Israel’s very form of government. He suggested requiring a “super majority” with some support from the opposition to pass such laws.

The President’s words came as opposition leaders in Israel are describing the proposed reforms as a coup de’ tat and Netanyahu himself a dictator.

Erel Margalit commented, “We are at a dramatic moment in the history of Israel where all of us that are for democracy in the hi-tech industry and around Israel, need to stand up and say to this government – NO!”

“You are seeing millions of Israelis rise up in a clear demonstration, because they are saying NO to the attempt of Netanyahu and his gang to change the system of this government from democracy to something that looks much more like a dictatorship,” he added.

Echoing the rhetoric of Israel’s opposition, Erel Margalit added, “this battle is the battle for democracy which is the most important battle of our lives.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s proposed judicial reforms would greatly limit the authority of Israel’s Supreme Court and its attorney general, leading the country’s opposition leaders to accuse Netanyahu of moving to harm Israel’s democracy. This has led many, including the governor of the Bank of Israel, to say that the reforms could harm Israel’s economy.

And opposition leaders claim that this would harm Israel’s democracy by taking away the court’s ability to review the legality of government actions.

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