More than 130,000 demonstrators came out Saturday to oppose the new government’s plans to weaken Israel’s court system, in one of the biggest protests the country has witnessed in the last decade.
In its third consecutive week, some 120,000 protesters in Tel Aviv blocked key roads in the city in a bold call for democracy, while thousands of others participated in protests in Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’er Sheva.
After not attending last week, opposition leader Yair Lapid addressed the crowds on Tel Aviv's Kaplan Street.
“This is a protest intended to defend the country. People who love the country came today to defends its democracy and its courts, to defend the idea of common life and common good,” Lapid said. politicians were not permitted to make speeches.
“Lovers of Israel came to protest for a Jewish and democratic country. We won’t give up until we win,” he said.
Former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who was also at the protest, stated in an interview with public broadcaster Kan 11: “We are not ready to compromise on Israeli democracy in its deepest sense. The fact that we are ready to reach agreements does not mean that we are ready to give up.”
Moshe Ya’alon, another former defense minister and former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, also spoke at the protest: “A country where the prime minister appoints all the judges and is responsible for promoting and firing them has a name. It’s called a dictatorship. When this prime minster is also a defendant whom the State of Israel is accusing of serious crimes, it has a name. It’s called a dictatorship of criminals.”
Ya’alon was referring to the ongoing criminal trials in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a defendant.
Referring to Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s plan to weaken the judiciary, Ya’alon said, “This is legislation with a black flag flying over it,” adding, “Legislation that turns Israel into a dictatorship where a criminal defendant appoints judges is patently illegal legislation.”
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Ya’alon continued, “The Jewish people paid a heavy price for the fact that in democratic elections in Germany a government came to power that eliminated democracy, and the first thing that it eliminated was the basic democratic principle of the independence of the judicial branch.”
Also speaking at the protest, former head of the Shin Bet security service Ami Ayalon called on fellow senior members of Israel’s security establishment as well as current Likud ministers Avi Dichter and Yoav Gallant to oppose what he described as a government coup.
“I know the two personally, as determined and brave fighters. I have no doubt that they, like us, are aware of the abyss into which Netanyahu is dragging Israel, but they are still silent – their courage has been replaced by narrow political considerations,” he said.
Author David Grossman spoke at the Tel Aviv protest as well. “I keep meeting more and more young people who don’t want to live here anymore. I understand this position, but it’s painful,” Grossman said. “If so many Israelis are feeling like foreigners in their home, it’s clear that something has gone wrong.”
“I refuse to be an exile in my country, and I think you do too. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here. Protesters, refuse to be passive, refuse to be indifferent. Refuse to be exiles in our country. Now is the time, friends, the dark time. Now is the moment to stand up and shout – this land is in our soul,” he stated.
Grossman then told the audience: “Our house is burning, no less. We understand the rule of law is being critically wounded, and if you didn’t feel the same way, you wouldn’t be here. You are refusing to be cynical, to be passive. Here and now, at this dark time, you are declaring that this country is in your soul.”
Former justice minister and former Netanyahu ally Gideon Sa’ar spoke at the demonstration in Haifa. “In the fight against corruption there is no right or left,” Sa’ar said. “Mr. Prime Minister, you are not above the law. Uphold the High Court’s ruling, fire Dery,” he added, referring to Arye Dery, who the top court ruled last week could not serve in Netanyahu’s government due to a recent criminal conviction.
Some of the protesters explained what brought them out.
“My mom is a Holocaust survivor. This country saved her, and I’m here to make sure it’s not destroyed by those in power today,” said Ruth Packer.
“Too many of our young men died fighting for this country. We’re not going to let it be taken away from us,” said her friend, Rona Levine.
Elina, a 69-year-old doctor from Argentina, noted, “I am reminded of what happened in Argentina when the dictatorship took over. It’s inconceivable that a man standing trial for corruption will be leading the country and now wants to appoint the judges.”
Tamar Kadish, 21, from Hod Hasharon, stated that she “voted five times already and the results were never what I wanted. Now I fear we’re about to lose our democracy.”