Israel’s far-right coalition tonight raised its hands ( in the first of three plenum votes on two laws that completely change the justice system and transform Israel from democracy to dictatorship.
While the Knesset was busy consolidating government control over judge appointments and limiting Supreme Court examination of Basic Laws, tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered in Jerusalem to rally against Netanyahu’s government’s plan.
They gathered from all over Israel near the Knesset, waving blue and white flags and chanting De-mo-cra-cy as they accused the government of intending to exercise complete political control over judge appointments.”
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In the morning, protesters blocked key highways and interchanges across the country, including Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, the road to Ben-Gurion Airport on the way to Jerusalem, and other locations. according to official numbers, about 60,000 attended the rally around the Knesset.
In addition, thousands of parents and their children protested in front of schools and other educational institutions across the country, IDF reservist groups, Hi-tech leaders, healthcare professionals, and several small groups surrounded the homes of Knesset members in an effort to stop them from going to Jerusalem.
“The accused can’t pick his own judges,” the protesters said, pointing out that Netanyahu was trying to avoid justice by destroying the whole system.
“The protestors talk about democracy,” Netanyahu said in a Likud party faction meeting as the rally continued, “but they are putting an end to democracy when they prevent public representatives from their basic democratic right – to vote,” he said. “I call to the police to act immediately to enable the MKs to get to the Knesset. Freedom of speech – yes, anarchy – no. We have to maintain the flow of life and not allow anarchists to paralyze the country,” he continued.
“Today, there will be votes, and tomorrow, I hope the path will be opened to dialogue,” Netanyahu said, referring to a request by President Isaac Herzog to halt the legislation so that the parties can negotiate on the compromise approach he provided last week.
Some opposition leaders criticized the government during the rally. Yair Lapid (Yes Atid) said: “Tonight, the State of Israel will take its first step towards turning Israel into a non-democratic country. The government is bringing forward two laws to cancel Israeli democracy.”
He said the coalition lied when they said they were willing to talk. “There has not been a true discourse on the terrible damage that [the reform] will cause to the economy and each of our livelihoods, nor on the security dangers, nor on the fact that it is tearing the nation of Israel apart,” Lapid said.
“History will judge Netanyahu,” National Unity chairman MK Benny Gantz said. “The Iranian threat is increasing – but they (Coalition) continue destroying our relations with the world. In Lod, people are being killed – but they are fighting protesters instead of criminals. East Jerusalem is burning – but they are inflaming Israeli society. The inflation is rising – but they are trampling the High Court,” Gantz said.
During a Knesset plenum debate on legislation the government is pushing to shift powers from the courts to politicians, opposition MK Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid) said, “I will say from this podium, Nazi Germany rose to power democratically.”
“This plan is worse than all the regimes that we don’t want to be like,” Ben Barak says. “Not the Turks, Hungarians, or Poles.”
Netanyahu claims the statement shows the opposition “has gone off the rails.”
Support from the Jewish World
In a statement by the T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights organization and other members of the Progressive Israel Network said that they will gather on Tuesday, February 21, across from the New York City Israeli Consulate for a “Rally for Israeli Democracy” to join in solidarity with protesters in Israel against the anti-democratic, far-right government. The rally provides Americans the opportunity to show solidarity with Israelis who have taken to the streets in record numbers over the past few weeks.
As protests in Israel continue, the government remains committed to legislation that undermines the Israeli Supreme Court’s authority and independence, along with plans to deepen settlement expansion and occupation in the West Bank. The government aims to execute these plans while ensuring there is no judicial authority in place to stop them.