Israel Day of Disruption protest

Israeli security forces manhandle a protester at Ben Gurion International Airport outside Lod during a July 11, 2023 demonstration against a proposed judicial overhaul.

(Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images)

'Day of Disruption': Tens of Thousands of Israelis Protest Imminent 'Judicial Coup'

"We are going to show them that the power of the people is stronger than that of the people in power," said one demonstrator.

At least tens of thousands of Israelis on Tuesday took to the streets, shutting down highways, and marching through the country's main international airport in a "day of disruption" after the nation's far-right governing coalition advanced a deeply controversial overhaul of the legal system critics condemn as a "judicial coup."

Demonstrators thronged the highways leading to cities including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, pitching tents, blocking roadways, and hanging banners from overpasses.

At Ben Gurion International Airport near Lod, thousands of protesters defied police warnings and marched through the arrivals hall.

Israeli police said at least 66 people were arrested. Widespread police violence—including spraying water cannons at protesters, charging into crowds on horseback, and an attack on at least one journalist—was recorded and posted on social media.

Ami Eshed, Tel Aviv's police commander, resigned last week due to what he claimed was political interference by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government and its desire to use excessive force to quash the ongoing pro-democracy protests.

"I could have easily met these expectations by using unreasonable force that would have filled up the emergency room... at the end of every protest," Eshed said on Israeli television.

Protesters—some of whom flew in from as far afield as the United States—represented a broad cross-section of Israel's center and left wing; however, Israeli-American journalist Emily Schrader said on Twitter that she "saw dozens of people screaming" at demonstrators opposing the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine "to get out of the protest."

Speaking at a Tel Aviv protest, opposition leader Benny Gantz of the National Unity party said that "ultimately, the protests will block this judicial coup."

Gantz implored police to refrain from violence: "These are not enemies. You don't use this force on citizens."

One protester named Grace told Middle East Eye that she believes "Israel is deteriorating towards complete dictatorship and corruption, and we are trying to stop it. Whatever laws this government doesn't like, it cancels, so all the power goes into government hands and away from the public."

"The message we have for the government is no one here will agree to live in a dictatorship," she added. "We are seeing an extreme government that wants to create an extreme country, and we don't want that to happen. We are going to show them that the power of the people is stronger than that of the people in power."

Hundreds of Israel Defense Forces reservists specializing in cyberwarfare reacted to Monday's parliamentary vote by announcing they will stop reporting for duty.

"We will not continue to develop cyber capabilities for a criminal regime, and we will not train the future generation of offensive cyber," the reservists said in a statement. "Our work cannot continue under such a severe legal and moral cloud."

Hundreds of members of the women-led Bonot Alternativa movement rallied outside the U.S. consulate in Tel Aviv to protest the judicial bill, with another demonstration planned for Tuesday afternoon at the Israeli consulate in New York.

"The Israeli government is destroying Israel as we know it—a Jewish and democratic state—it is harming the independence of the courts... banishing women from the public sphere, and harming our core democracy," Bonot Alternativa said in a plea to U.S. President Joe Biden.

"The members of the 'most extreme' government, as President Biden put it, are attacking freedom of expression, the right to protest, and the rights of women and minorities," the group added. "Don't stand by. Don't let the Jewish state be destroyed."

The White House on Tuesday urged Israeli authorities to respect protesters' rights.

"As the administration has said, both U.S. and Israeli democracy are built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and an independent judiciary," a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson toldHaaretz.

"The president has said consistently, both privately and publicly, that fundamental reforms like this require a broad basis of support to be durable and sustained," the spokesperson added. "The president has been clear he hopes Prime Minister Netanyahu will work to find a genuine compromise."

Tuesday's protests were sparked by Israeli lawmakers' overnight 64-56 vote to provisionally support a key piece of the highly contentious judicial overhaul that would repeal the "reasonableness" standard used by the Supreme Court to overrule egregious government decisions like then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's refusal to fire Cabinet Minister Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, after a 1993 fraud and bribery indictment.

The broader plan, proposed earlier this year by Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin—a member of Netanyahu's Likud party—would allow a 50%+1 parliamentary majority to override rulings issued by the Supreme Court, which also sits as the High Court of Justice and has been accused by human rights groups of giving legal cover to war crimes and crimes against humanity including apartheid and the illegal occupation of Palestine.

The proposed reforms would also increase government control over judicial appointments and make it more difficult for the Supreme Court to annul legislation by requiring the assent of more justices.

Furthermore, Levin's proposal would turn legal advisers who serve government ministries from professional appointees accountable to the attorney general into political appointments controlled by Cabinet ministers.

Critics have accused Netanyahu—who faces multiple criminal corruption charges—of attempting to weaken the judiciary in a bid to boost his chances of dodging prosecution. Netanyahu is prohibited from personal involvement in the judiciary overhaul due to a conflict of interest related to the charges against him.

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