Israel: Protests escalate against Netanyahu ‘dictatorship’
Israelis marched in their thousands across the country on Thursday in what they described as a “growing resistance against dictatorship”.
The far-right coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week pushed ahead with controversial legislation that would allow politicians to overturn Supreme Court judgments with a simple majority, as well as appoint judges.
‘Extremists in government are tearing us apart from the inside’
– Benny Gantz
Among the protesters in Tel Aviv was former US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, in a show of support.
“I am disappointed and very concerned about this judicial revolution and the impact it will have on Israeli democracy – and therefore the impact it will have on the relationship between the US and Israel,” Indyk told Haaretz.
Clashes broke out between police and demonstrators in Tel Aviv and at least 11 people were arrested across the country, where protesters blocked highways, ports and government buildings.
Netanyahu rejected attempts by the country’s headstrong president, Isaac Herzog, to find a way out of the stalemate, as he prepared to board a plane to Germany on an official state visit on Wednesday.
Herzog had been meeting with actors on both sides of the divide for weeks to try to find an acceptable middle ground and his proposal appeared to offer incentives to both sides.
The former defense minister and now deputy prime minister as opposition politician Benny Gantz welcomed Herzog’s call for dialogue.
In a speech, Gantz urged Netanyahu to stop the country from slipping towards “civil war”.
He went on to say that the “extremists in the government are tearing us apart from the inside.”
The polarization also entered the country’s army.
While leading protests in Haifa, Israel’s military reserve blocked one of the country’s main ports.
Other soldiers established “army recruitment centers” in ultra-Orthodox parts of the city saying: “We have found the burden of recruitment for the ultra-Orthodox population because if there is a dictatorship here, we will have to come here and recruit. We repeat: Without democracy, there is no people’s army.”
The tension also highlights the divisions between the secular and the more religious.
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Hundreds of soldiers have also announced that they would boycott the army from Sunday.
“In the media, we read that the second and third reading will be voted on Sunday on the first law of the dictatorship, which prevents the attorney general from declaring that the prime minister is unfit for office. the gun is firmly attached to the button of democracy and the trigger will be pulled soon,” they said.
In an overnight session earlier this week, the Knesset approved several pieces of legislation that would, among other things, prevent the country’s attorney general from declaring Netanyahu unfit for office.
It would not be said that the prime minister is fit for office because of physical or mental incapacity and then only by the prime minister himself or by a vote of three quarters of the members of the cabinet.
Each of the bills requires additional votes before becoming law.
Last week, Netanyahu had to be airlifted to the country’s main international airport for a state visit abroad after protesters blocked the road leading into it, holding up signs reading ” don’t come back!”
Israel is in the midst of a political crisis that has pitted Netanyahu’s far-right government against civil society, the country’s academic and business elite, and former government ministers and military figures.
In an open letter on Sunday, more than 250 US business leaders and politicians warned that Israel’s judicial reforms will make it “increasingly difficult” to defend the country internationally.
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“Many leaders in the business community will be forced to reassess their dependence on Israel as a strategic destination for investment, finding talent, building engineering centers and holding intellectual property,” the business leaders warned in their open letter.
Netanyahu is currently on trial for corruption, and the amendments could enable him to avoid conviction or have his case dismissed.
Since his indictment in 2019, Netanyahu has publicly railed against the justice system, saying it was biased against him.
Israel has been mired in political turmoil for over two months, with thousands of people continuing to take to the streets in massive protests.
Demonstrators are calling on the government to end the controversial judicial reform plan which they say threatens checks and balances in the country.