Police called in as protesters hem in overhaul architect Rothman


A lawmaker at the center of the government’s efforts to overhaul Israel’s judiciary demanded the help of security forces to leave a house in central Israel late Thursday, capping a chaotic day of demonstrations against the legislation.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, a key figure behind the judicial shakeup, had visited the Ramat Hasharon home of tech entrepreneur Yuval Tal when hundreds of protesters, winded by his presence, gathered outside.

Rothman finally left town in a car surrounded by a phalanx of over a dozen police officers, who cleared a path between the protesters.

During the demonstration, protesters hung flags, blew horns or vuvuzellas and chanted “shame.”

Several attempted to reach Rothman’s vehicle as he made his way through the crowd, but were pushed back by police.

The demonstration was the latest to target lawmakers as they made their way between various activities on Thursday, part of a day of mass protests aimed at pressuring lawmakers to pass the reform.

Police arrested at least 92 people across the country, and deployed horses and water cannons to clear demonstrators blocking roads in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Earlier in the evening, protesters attempted to disrupt a Religious Zionism party event at the Petah Tikva hotel attended by Rothman and party leader Bezalel Smotrich.

Police clashed with protesters, some of whom were seen pushing former public security minister Omer Barlev, who led their activities until a few months ago.

Protesters pointed out that the Ramat Hasharon demonstrations were not planned, but they quickly gathered once it was discovered that Rothman was in the city.

“We heard about the protest through WhatsApp groups for the neighborhood, for the city, in all the groups,” one protester told the Ynet news site. “We will wait until he leaves.”

In a tweet after the protests, Rothman said “in both locations a small violent group tried to keep me from coming or going. Listening to and listening to uncomfortable things, that’s democracy. Violence, silencing others and blocking roads, that is not democracy.”

Rothman, a relative newcomer to the Knesset, has long pushed for many of the changes proposed as part of the reform. As head of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, he played a major role in speeding bills that make up the reform through the legislative process.

There was no immediate comment from Tal, whose house Rothman was visiting. Tal co-founded payment services behemoth Payoneer. Among the company’s early investors was former prime minister Naftali Bennett, a former political ally of Smotrich.

MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Justice and Law Committee, presides over a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Elsewhere, protesters gathered outside the home of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Moshav Amikam in northern Israel after he appeared to cancel plans to make a public call to suspend the legislative push. Demonstrators chanted “shame,” and called on Gallant to go ahead with a speech he had scheduled for Thursday evening and then canceled after a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israelis have had almost three months of mass demonstrations against the government’s judicial reform plans.

As it stands, the legislative package — among other things — will allow the Knesset to override court decisions with a bare majority, protect laws from judicial oversight, and put the selection of judges in the hands of coalition politicians.

Thousands of Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government plans to reform the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, March 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

While supporters say the judicial reform will rebalance power away from an overly activist court, critics argue the measures will remove essential checks on executive and legislative power, endangering democracy and leaving many rights unprotected.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Netanyahu promised to participate in the judicial overhaul despite a conflict of interest agreement that prevents him from doing so because of his ongoing criminal trial.

Although he promised to take the opposition’s concerns into account and try to balance the legislation, he also said that the government will press ahead with the bill to assert control over the panel that selects judges – saying that it will take immediate form in the next Knesset. a week.

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