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13th week of anti-overhaul protests: ‘As in Poland, government is just reorganizing’

Mass protests against the government’s efforts to shackle the judiciary were set to continue Saturday night, with demonstrations to be held around the country for the 13th consecutive week, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of a pause in the legislative blitz.

Protests, rounding off a tumultuous week in Israel, were planned for some 150 locations, with the central rally to take place in Tel Aviv.

Organizers noted that hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the contentious overhaul, and called for the demonstrations to continue.

Protest leaders likened the pause announced by Netanyahu to the situation in Poland in 2017, where the president silenced protests against a judicial overhaul with a veto and calls for unity, before later enacting almost identical legislation.

“Just like in Poland, the government is taking time to reorganize in order to pass the judicial coup. It is the job of the people to stand up and protest in order to safeguard democracy,” protest leaders said in a statement.

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Poland’s deputy foreign minister Pawel Jablonski on Monday said Israel consulted with his country about overhauling the judicial system, following past Polish moves to curb the judiciary’s authority, while constitutional scholars from Poland and Hungary, two countries seen to have undergone democratic backsliding in recent years, warned that Israel was facing the same dangers.

The main rally was set to begin Saturday evening with a 6:30 p.m. march from 1 Rothschild Boulevard to the central demonstration on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street.

On-stage events were set to start after 7:30 p.m., to allow those who observe Shabbat to participate.

The speakers at the central rally will include former head of the intelligence directorate Major General (Res.) Amos Malka, constitutional law expert Dafna Holtz-Lavie, CEO of the Ethiopian Jewish Association Rinah Eilin Gorlick and Yossi Levy, former spokesperson to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yossi Levy speaks to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, December 15, 2008 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Organizers said the public must “send a resounding response to the violence and incitement from the prime minister, his family, and colleagues,” after supporters of the overhaul attacked an Arab taxi driver, anti-overhaul protesters, journalists and multiple passersby in recent days.

“As in the days of the establishment of Israel, we are living in historical times, a true time of crisis,” they said in a statement.

“Anyone who read the statements made by the justice minister and other senior officials understands that unfortunately they do not want to reach broad agreements, but only want to buy time in order to undermine the protest,” organizers said.

Levin said Wednesday he would resume efforts to pass the hard-right coalition’s judicial overhaul after the Knesset’s upcoming Passover recess, sparking claims that talks aimed at reaching a broad consensus on the now-frozen legislation were being used as a fig leaf.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu announced he was suspending the legislation Monday as opposition to the judicial overhaul intensified with mass spontaneous protests seeing hundreds of thousands pouring into the streets, followed by a national strike, after his firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had warned about the security implications of the coalition’s proposals and called for a halt to allow for talks.

The premier indicated the “time-out” would last until the Knesset’s next session begins April 30, meaning the pause will mostly take place when the Knesset would be in recess anyway.

However, senior officials involved in the talks said Friday that the negotiations were already dead in the water due to the coalition’s insistence that it end up with control of the Judicial Selection Committee.

That demand is a non-starter for the opposition, essentially ending the chances for the negotiations before the talks got off the ground, officials involved in the process told Channel 12.

The attorney general has warned that the coalition’s current package of legislation — which would give the coalition almost complete control over all judicial appointments, and radically constrain the High Court — would hand the government virtually unrestrained power, without providing any institutional protections for individual rights or for Israel’s democratic character.

Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

On Friday, hundreds of anti-overhaul demonstrators picketed outside the homes of Levin, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter and MK David Bitan — all of Likud — seeking to exert additional pressure on them.

Over one hundred people also gathered outside the home of National Unity chair Benny Gantz, who has been the most vocal opposition lawmaker in favor of compromise with the coalition. The protesters urged him not to do so, chanting slogans such as, “you have no mandate to compromise on democracy.”

Dozens also protested against the overhaul at Ben Gurion Airport, holding up signs that read, “welcome to the dictatorship.”