Thousands rally in support of judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, block major highway

Waving Israeli and Likud flags, around 20,000 protesters marched in support of the government’s judicial reform plans in Tel Aviv on Thursday, the second such rally since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended the judicial legislation earlier this week in amid growing public pressure.

The right-wing organization Im Tirtzu organized the “March for Freedom” in the heart of the city, with the aim of “being free from the constraints of the High Court,” and announced that “judicial reform has been chosen by the people”. Several government ministers encouraged their supporters to attend the event.

Many protesters at the Tel Aviv rally carried signs declaring “I am a second-class citizen,” and “They are stealing the election,” as they marched from the Tel Aviv Museum to Kaplan Street.

Others held signs with slogans such as “I believe Rothman and Levin” – two of the political architects of the overhaul, Minister of Justice Yariv Levin and chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Justice and Justice Committee Simcha Rothman.

Some demonstrators then marched onto Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway, blocking traffic, using a tactic used by anti-reform protesters in recent months. Police said there were a large number of officers at the scene. The highway was later reopened.

Earlier in the rally, several protesters surrounded the reporter Moti Kastel of Now 14, a channel considered favorable to the Likud, with some chanting his name.

Several spoke, “The people demand judicial reform” and “Bibi king of Israel,” using the prime minister’s nickname, for Kastel’s broadcast.

Many pro-government activists are unhappy that Netanyahu halted progress on judicial reform legislation for talks with the opposition, believing that the democratically elected government should not have to compromise.

Uri, a 33-year-old from Tel Aviv, told The Times of Israel that he wrote the slogan “I am a second-class citizen” on his banner because he felt his vote was being blocked by a leftist court.

He declined to share his last name because he was “afraid of being fired because it’s not acceptable to have the attitude that I have.”

“Democratic results do not matter, because the judicial system overrides the democratic process, they have too much power,” he charged. “The election results don’t really matter.”

Uri claimed a link between the judicial activism and the ongoing corruption trial of the Prime Minister, saying: “There are completely fake cases against Benjamin Netanyahu, they accuse him of allegations to defeat the elections.”

“You cannot defeat democracy with false accusations.”

A protester carries a banner reading ‘the people chose judicial reform’ at a rally in support of the government’s proposed judicial reform, in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Using a megaphone, one protester said, “We are Golani, we are Paratroopers, aren’t we as valuable as pilots?” A key point of pressure on the government in recent weeks has been warnings from a growing number of reserve pilots that they would not report for training sessions if the coalition’s plans went ahead.

Channel 12 news reported that some protesters chanted “Kahane Lives,” a reference to the late racist extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, and “Burn your village,” a popular anti-Arab chant.

Some people who were rallying held a banner criticizing US President Joe Biden, who expressed his concern about the reform on Tuesday.

Leaders of the reservist pilot protest announced on Tuesday that they would resume training and operational activity after the controversial legislative plan was put on hold, but indicated they remained wary of it being carried out to revive.

Likud MK Tally Gotliv, who was at the protest, praised it as “a demonstration of the great power of the right wing with values, who love the country.”

“I want to remind Knesset members that they have the right to their duty to pass the judicial reform. We are indebted to those who have given us this power. We will carry forward the reform, we will not fall prey to extortion through threats from the opposition or the radical left. We came to rule and that’s what we will do,” she told demonstrators.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said in a statement that the demonstrations were “important for democracy” and urged demonstrators to refrain from violence.

“I trust the police commissioner to lead the police in line with the minister’s policy — equal treatment for all,” he said.

Ben Gvir has been a vocal critic of the police’s handling of the anti-reform protests, calling on officers to use tougher measures against demonstrators, and has called for better direct control of the force since becoming security minister national. He opposes anti-reform protesters who block roads as “anarchists”.

Protesters block the Ayalon highway during a rally in support of the government’s proposed judicial reform, in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Before the rally, several members of the WhatsApp groups that organized the events issued disturbing calls for violence and plans to attack anti-government activists and journalists.

“Today we are going to fuck them and nobody will stop us … we have to shut their mouths,” wrote one member of the group on Thursday afternoon, after claiming that the left “incites murder and hatred against us , the right wing. “

On Thursday, Im Tirtzu asked participants to heed instructions from security officials and “not to give signs or make calls that incite violence.”

The rally follows a large pro-government demonstration in Jerusalem on Monday, in which several extremist protesters attacked journalists as well as an Arab cab driver.

Among the pro-reform protesters in Jerusalem were dozens of members of the right-wing extremist group La Familia, some of whom were filmed attacking Arab migrants. Members of the group have also been blamed for other reported attacks. The ultra-nationalist La Familia is a fan club of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, although the team has repeatedly distanced itself from the organization due to its racist rhetoric and violent antics. Security officials have previously called for it to be outlawed as a terrorist organisation.

Weekly mass protests have been held for nearly three months against the proposed legislation, which critics say will politicize the court, remove key checks on government power and seriously damage Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will stay with judges who they argue are overstepping their bounds.

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