Angry protests, strikes paralyze Israel as Netanyahu resists pausing widely hated judicial reforms
Angry protests, strikes paralyze Israel as Netanyahu resists pausing widely hated judicial reforms

JERUSALEM – MARCH 27: Israelis, carrying Israeli flags and anti-government placards, gather outside the Knesset to protests against the Israeli government’s plan to introduce judicial changes.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Mass protests are rocking Israel, and the country’s largest labor union announced a major strike Monday in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s months-long attempt to push through widely-derided judicial reforms that opponents say will pull the country toward an autocracy.

This is possibly the largest wave of demonstrations in Israel’s history.

“Stop this judicial process before it is too late,” Arnon Bar-David, Israel’s Histadrut union leader, said in a televised speech, addressing Netanyahu directly. Histadrut — which, at 800,000 members, represents the majority of Israel’s trade unionists — declared a “historic” general strike to “stop this judicial revolution, this craziness,” Bar-David said.

Protests have taken place across Israel for the last four months, sparked by anger at controversial judicial reforms pushed by Netanyahu’s government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history. The planned overhaul would significantly weaken the country’s judiciary and make it harder to remove Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, from power.

The proposed reforms would award executive control over appointing judges to the Supreme Court, as well as entitle the government to supersede court rulings through parliamentary majority.

Monday’s demonstrations had a new fervor and are reported to be the biggest yet, triggered by Netanyahu’s firing of his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for speaking out against the planned measures. Local news outlets are reporting that a whopping 600,000 people have come out to protest across the country.

“600,000 demonstrating is an extraordinary figure. It means approx[imately] 6.5% of Israel’s population is out protesting tonight, many having literally woken up from their beds when they heard Bibi fired Gallant,” Monica Marks, a Middle East politics professor at NYU Abu Dhabi, wrote on Twitter. “When was the last time 6+% of any country protested? Genuine question.”

Earlier on Monday, President Isaac Herzog — whose position is largely ceremonial and apolitical — took to Twitter to call on the administration to interrupt its judicial review.

“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of the responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” he said, according to a Google translation.

“I appeal to the heads of all Knesset factions, coalition and opposition alike, to put the citizens of the country above all else, and to act responsibly and courageously without further delay. Come to your senses now! This is not a political moment, this is a moment for leadership and responsibility.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office announced the dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had opposed the motion, escalating protests.

“We must all stand up strongly against refusals,” Netanyahu said on Twitter around the time of the announcement, without directly referencing Gallant.

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