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Masses rally against overhaul ahead of court showdown; car rams protesters in Tel Aviv

Over a hundred thousand protesters rallied for the 36th straight week Saturday against the coalition’s judicial overhaul legislation, days ahead of a key showdown at the Supreme Court next week.

Some 118,000 demonstrators gathered for the main protest at Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, Channel 13 reported, citing data from the CrowdSolutions firm.

Smaller rallies attracted thousands in other cities and intersections across the country.

After the demonstration, some protesters blocked the Ayalon Highway’s southbound lanes.

A woman was lightly hurt when a driver drove into a group of protesters on the highway. A video showed several people arguing with protesters on the highway, before a car accelerated into the demonstrators, knocking several over before stopping as other demonstrators chased after it.

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Police detained the driver.

*תיעוד קשה לצפייה*
רכב דרס מפגינים נגד התכנית המשפטית שחסמו את איילון דרום ליד ארלוזרוב pic.twitter.com/2x3mF4Ckup

— Anna Pines || אנה פינס (@AnnaPines_) September 9, 2023

Organizers said this week’s protests would “offer a response to Ohana,” a reference to a speech by Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana this week, in which he suggested the coalition may not accept a High Court of Justice ruling if it strikes down the recently passed controversial “reasonableness” law. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retweeted a video of that speech.

That law, the first major piece of legislation passed as part of the overhaul plan, bars the court from striking down cabinet or ministerial decisions based on their ostensible “extreme unreasonableness.”

An unprecedented full 15-justice panel of the High Court is slated to hear the petitions against the law on September 12. Various government ministers and other figures have warned of the potential for chaos if the court strikes down the law, setting up a potential constitutional crisis.

It is not known when the court will issue a ruling, and the expanded bench is likely to lengthen the process.

In Tel Aviv, former Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin said that Israel had already reached a constitutional crisis after Ohana’s speech and Netanyahu’s subsequent backing for the remarks.

Netanyahu “is acting in a grave and ongoing conflict of interest, when he is involved in the legislation to improve his legal situation, and is violating a court ruling,” he said, in reference to the prime minister’s ongoing corruption trial, and a deal that allows him to continue serving as long as he doesn’t involve himself in judicial legislation or appointments.

שלום חנוך הגיע לבמה של קפלן: בלב שלם ואוהב אני מצרף את קולי ואת עצמי לקריאה לחופש ושוויון בארצנו, הארץ שלנו pic.twitter.com/6NwQaFXwLO

— רן שמעוני Ran Shimoni (@ran_shimoni) September 9, 2023

“This is a government that is acting to crush the democratic infrastructure of the country, and so every act of this government is suspicious,” he said and urged incumbent security chiefs to be wary of any instruction given to them by the government.

Singer Shalom Hanoch, this week’s performer at Kaplan, told the crowd he was “adding myself and my voice for freedom and equality of all of us in Israel.”

At the end of the rally at Kaplan, protesters marched to the home of Ohana as well as that of Negev and Galilee Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf. Earlier in the day, police arrested an activist on suspicion of vandalizing property after he hung protest signs in north Tel Aviv targeting his new neighbor Wasserlauf. He was released later in the day. Activists turned up at Wasserlauf’s home to protest the arrest during the day, where they scuffled with police. One protester was arrested.

In addition to the weekly protests, several thousand people completed a three-day “democracy march” in northern Israel from Safed to Tel Hai near the Lebanese border, and in the south from Kiryat Gat to Beersheba to protest the overhaul.

Moshe Ya’alon, a former defense minister and Likud party lawmaker, told protesters in Beersheba that the thousands who had “drafted” to protest the government reminded him of the thousands who were called up to fight in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which took place 50 years ago this month.

But instead of facing an outside threat, “today it’s an internal threat of a government that is disconnected from the people, a destructive government,” he said.

לא ייאמן, אבל קרה. ממש עכשיו. שבת בצהריים. יואב אנדרמן, אדריכל, אזרח משלם מיסים, שמוביל ביחד עם שכנים בצפון החדש את המחאה נגד הדייר החדש, השר וסרלאוף, נעצר לפני דקות בביתו. שוטרים הגיעו אליו ופשוט לקחו אותו לתחנה. ילדיו המומים. הסיבה? תליית שלטים בשכונה ("השחתת פני מקרקעין").… pic.twitter.com/4cIFNW5Dfj

— Ben Caspit בן כספית (@BenCaspit) September 9, 2023

Addressing Netanyahu, Ya’alon accused the prime minister of failed leadership.

“You promised to take care of the cost of living — this week the shekel reached new lows. You promised to take care of governance — we’ve reached an all-time record for the number of murders in the Arab community. This week government supporters broke another ‘record’ when they waved posters of ‘Kahane was right’ and ‘Yigal Amir was right.’ The responsibility is on you.”

At the pro-government protest in front of the Supreme Court Thursday, some participants could be seen donning stickers saying that Jewish terrorists such as Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron in 1994; Amiram Ben Uliel, who is in prison for the 2015 deadly firebombing of a Palestinian family in the West Bank village of Duma; extremist rabbi Meir Kahane; and Rabin’s killer Yigal Amir “were right.”

In her address to Herzliya demonstrators, Labor party MK Efrat Rayten decried the arrest of Yoav Anderman, the activist arrested in Tel Aviv.

“It seems that Yoav carried out one of the most serious crimes in the law book, such a serious offense that two policemen had to bother him in his house on Shabbat, hanging protest signs in front of the house of Minister Wasserlauf, who is incidentally a member of the same party as the police minister — the most racist slate in the Knesset,” she said.

In his address to the rally in Haifa, former deputy national security adviser Eran Etzion compared the government’s behavior to that of the al-Qaeda terrorists who carried out the September 11 terror attacks (this upcoming week marks 22 years since the tragedy).

“A bunch of messianic fanatics, criminals, led by an arch-villain, hijacked the Israeli plane from passengers and pilots, and they are navigating it to the crushing of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Etzion rejected claims that the prime minister was being “dragged” into the legislation by his far-right partners and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, arguing that the plans are his “get out of jail card,” in reference to the premier’s ongoing corruption trial.

“He is prepared to burn the country, disassemble the IDF and destroy the strategic relationship with the United States” to do this, he claimed.

חיפה תודה לכל מי שהפגינו וצעדו איתנו היום????????????

נעדכן בנוגע לאירועים במידה ויהיו במהלך השבוע הדרמטי הבא עלינו לטובה????????

קרדיט צילום: גיא ברוקמן

???????????? pic.twitter.com/D5q9IpWHFa

— מחאת העם חיפה (@haifaprotest) September 9, 2023

In Rehovot, Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak told protesters: “We respect everyone, but we won’t tolerate those that break apart our democracy.”

“We won’t tolerate racism, we won’t tolerate control by extremists over our country. We won’t compromise. We will fight and win because there is no compromise on human rights, justice, and democracy,” he said.

Also Saturday, protest leader Shikma Bressler apologized for apparently referring to far-right elements of the government as “Nazis.”

Speaking on a panel on Friday, Bressler said that “it is forbidden to hold a dialogue with Nazis, whether they are Jews or not.”

Bressler had been speaking about how no consensus could be reached with far-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition, in an apparent reference to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

She gave an example of the fact that at the pro-government rally in Jerusalem on Thursday, some bore stickers extolling Jewish terrorists.

She later apologized, saying: “I made a mistake in my choice of words… I used a word that has no place in the conversation.”

Netanyahu slammed Bressler for her remarks, stating: “This scandalous remark is Holocaust distortion and is also wild incitement to murder government ministers and elected representatives.”

“The right to protest is not the right to incite,” he said in the statement.

Protest organizers said in response to Netanyahu’s condemnation: “The one leading Israel to a dark dictatorship, who crushed the economy and the people’s army, who established a machinery of venom and hate that is tearing up the nation, should not talk about incitement.”

The “reasonableness” law, the first and only part of the overhaul package that has been approved, prohibits the courts from reviewing government action using the judicial standard of reasonableness, whereby it can determine that a decision was invalid because it was made without properly assessing key considerations, or while using improper considerations.

Opponents of the law argue that, among other things, it could potentially undermine the independence of law enforcement and the justice system and make it difficult to challenge arbitrary dismissals of officials.

Ministers and coalition MKs have argued that the law is necessary to stop the High Court from asserting its own worldview on government decisions and actions, and have said that the dismissal of senior law enforcement officials will still be subject to other legal tools in administrative law.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.