Protests Erupt in Israel as Netanyahu’s Coalition Faces Turmoil

Fire burns as people attend a demonstration after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the defense minister and his nationalist coalition government presses on with its judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 27, 2023. REUTERS/Nir Elias

Thousands in Israel take to the streets as proposed judicial overhaul threatens democracy

JERUSALEM – The protests in Israel were ignited by Netanyahu’s announcement that he had dismissed Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for opposing the plans. A day earlier, Gallant had made a televised appeal for the government to halt its flagship overhaul of the judicial system, warning that the deep split it had opened up in Israeli society was affecting the military and threatening national security.

The proposed changes would tighten political control over judicial appointments and allow parliament to overrule the Supreme Court. This move has ignited some of the biggest street demonstrations in Israel’s history and drew an intervention by the head of state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, on March 19, 2023. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, on March 19, 2023. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS

“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” President Isaac Herzog said on Twitter.

The warning by Herzog, who is supposed to stand above politics and whose function is largely ceremonial, underlined the alarm caused by the proposals.

Netanyahu suspends the overhaul following the protests

During furious scenes in the Knesset early on Monday, opposition members of parliament attacked Simcha Rothman, the committee chairman who has shepherded the bill, with cries of “Shame! Shame!” and accusations comparing the bill to militant Islamist groups that want the destruction of Israel.

“This is a hostile takeover of the State of Israel. No need for Hamas, no need for Hezbollah,” one lawmaker was heard saying to Rothman as the constitution committee approved a key bill to go forward for ratification.

Read Also: Amid Pogroms Against Palestinians, Netanyahu’s Judicial Reforms Threaten Israel’s “Democracy”

The drama unfolded as Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich presented the 2023-24 budget to parliament for a preliminary vote later in the day. An opposition no-confidence motion was defeated, but in a sign of the tensions within the ruling coalition, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads one of the hardline pro-settler parties, called for the overhaul to go ahead.

“We must not stop the judiciary reform and must not surrender to anarchy,” he tweeted.

Despite the protests, Netanyahu suspended the overhaul following the pressure exerted on his coalition. This move highlights the power of public opinion in Israel and its ability to affect change.

Protests have also erupted in response to the killing of Amir Abu Khadijeh by Israeli forces during a raid in Tulkarm on the first day of Ramadan. There have been around 85 Palestinian deaths in the West Bank since the start of the year.

Palestinians cross Israel’s Qalandiya military checkpoint on their way to Friday prayers in Jerusalem on 24 March.
 APA images

Eighty-five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli police, soldiers and settlers in the West Bank since the beginning of the year, according to The Electronic Intifada’s tracking.

The UN has urged all sides to refrain from unilateral steps that could escalate tensions. Islamic religious trust officials have reported that nearly 300 extremists entered the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem under Israeli police guard, performing Jewish rituals in violation of the status quo arrangement governing the compound.

In conclusion, Israel’s current political turmoil is a result of proposed changes to the judiciary system. These changes have ignited some of the largest protests in Israel’s history, with many people fearing that the proposed changes will threaten democracy. While Netanyahu’s coalition is currently in chaos, the suspension of the overhaul shows that public opinion can still exert a powerful influence on the Israeli government. – Reuters/Electronic Intifada