Israel dispatch: Israeli police clash with protesters over government’s judicial reform plans Dispatches
© Paz Burd
Israel dispatch: Israeli police clash with protesters over government’s judicial reform plans

Sharon Basch is an Israeli American who spent the last two years living in Israel before starting her JD at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Israeli citizens Wednesday participated in a “day of disruption,” a planned protest against the Israeli government’s judicial reform plans. Wednesday saw the parliament’s (Knesset) second round of votes on some of those reforms. The third and final vote will swiftly follow.

Last week, the first round of these reforms passed the initial vote in the Knesset – 63 of 64 coalition members voted for the reforms, against 54 opposition members. Protesters immediately took to the streets. The proposed reforms would totally change how Supreme Court Justices are chosen, and give any ruling coalition the option of vetoing Supreme Court decisions with only a simple majority – meaning no opposition members would be required to overturn a ruling. The Israel Democracy Institute has released polling results that show 66% of Israeli citizens believe that the Supreme Court of Israel should retain the right to strike down laws passed by the Knesset that are incompatible with Israel’s pseudo-Constitutional Basic Rights – rights that afford personal freedoms and liberties for Israeli citizens. Nearly a third of respondents in agreement were citizens who voted for the ruling coalition.

Wednesday’s “day of disruption” involved numerous coordinated protests, beginning with a student/parent walkout of educational institutions. Following this was a protest outside of the State of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. Those who spoke wanted the government to hear what democracy and national strength truly is. Among the speakers were a former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) chief of staff, a former chief of the Shin Bet (internal security service), and a former Defense Minister. In a small country, whose modern history spans less than 80 years, these positions and those who have held them are well-known and highly respected figures in the Israeli political and cultural landscape. Later in the day, students and professors at universities in Tel Aviv marched down Dizengoff – Tel Aviv’s most central street. Citizens involved in the large, hi-tech center that is Tel Aviv, including CEOs and employees also joined the march, followed by a walk-out of hospital administrators, staff, nurses, doctors, social workers, and more. The day ended with its final protest, outside the home of Netanyahu.

Throughout the day, police used stun grenades and water cannons against protesters, and an officer was even seen kneeling on the neck of one. Police claimed that protesters were becoming violent, throwing stones and trying to knock over roadblocks and barricades. Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, “We will not accept violence against police officers, roadblocks and flagrant violation of state laws. The right to protest is not the right to anarchy.” Since the start of the protests, Netanyahu has accused opposition leaders of inflaming protestors, pushing them to break the law. Opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted in response “Netanyahu, the only anarchy here is produced by the government, over which you have lost control.”

Since the reform plans were announced in early January, they have been met with challenges from all major sectors of Israeli society. Major economists foresee enormous damage to Israel’s economy. Hundreds of women have dressed in the red robes seen in the “Handmaid’s Tale,” protesting the possibility of the curtailing of women’s rights if these reforms pass. Elite veterans of 8200, the army’s intelligence force, as well as others are threatening not to return for reserve duty. Former Supreme Court Justices, former Shin Bet chiefs, former IDF chiefs of staff, former chiefs of the Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) and a former member of the Nuclear Committee signed and submitted a letter to the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, urging him to denounce the reform plans and do everything in his power to prevent what Israeli’s are calling the downfall of Israeli democracy.

As the highly controversial reforms continue to move forward, it appears that tensions between the government and the opposition will only continue to increase, sparking even further fear and anger from protesting citizens.