Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a message to the nation on Thursday evening, defended the controversial justice reform. Thousands of Israelis continue their march towards Jerusalem on Friday in protest against these changes. The action kicked off in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening, and organizers plan to reach the parliament building on Saturday. More than 1,100 Air Force reservists suspended duty in protest at the reform.
When the prime minister’s office issued a communiqué announcing the address on Thursday afternoon, some Israeli media speculated that Netanyahu might announce a relaxation of the controversial law. However, at a quarter past 8 pm it became clear that the Israeli leader had no intention of changing his plans.
In his speech, Netanyahu defended reform and promised that Israel it will remain liberal, democratic and will not turn into a state of religious law, while ensuring the protection of the rights of all citizens and blaming the opposition for the failure of the negotiations on change, which took place under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog.
In reaction to the prime minister’s words, crowds of protesters gathered in Tel Aviv and elsewhere, blocking highways, lighting bonfires and trying to prevent police attempts to remove them from the roads.
“A speech full of lies and incitement”
Protest organizers called Netanyahu’s address “a speech full of lies and incitement” and argued that the prime minister “rather than keeping the country united, he is choosing a dictatorship.”
In Tel Aviv, police deployed mounted officers and water cannons to clear protesters from the highway and prevent further traffic disruption.
Thousands of people march to Jerusalem
Thousands of Israelis continue their march towards Jerusalem on Friday in protest against the government’s plans to reform the judiciary. The action started in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening, and the organizers plan to reach the parliament building on Saturday, i.e. on the eve of the votes that will decide on a key element of the controversial changes.
“Israeli people are making pilgrimages to Jerusalem to stop the breach of the pact between the people and the government and the beginning of the decline of Jewish and democratic Israel,” Shikma Bresler, one of the protest leaders, said in a video.
The participants of the demonstration have to walk about 60 kilometers, but due to the great heat they cover only a small part of the route each day, mainly in the morning and evening, and at night they camp in tents.
More than 1,100 Air Force reservists have suspended duty
On Friday, more than 1,100 Israeli air force reservists, including hundreds of pilots, signed a letter announcing that they would end voluntary service in the reserve as a protest against plans to reform the judiciary.
In a letter addressed to members of parliament, the Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) General Herti Halewi and the commander of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) General Tomer Bar, the 1,142 reservists said controversial government plans were forcing them to stop serving.
“Legislation that affects the Jewish or democratic character of the State of Israel must be implemented through negotiation and broad social consensus,” the military wrote in the letter.
They stressed that the law, which allows the authorities to act in an extremely irrational manner, will damage Israel’s security, cause distrust and undermine the consent to further risk of life, and ultimately lead to the suspension of voluntary service.
The Times of Israel reminds us that in recent months many reservists have warned that they would not be able to serve in a country with an undemocratic system that Israel would become if the government’s plans were carried out.
Several of the letter’s signatories, who spoke to Israeli media on anonymity, said they were “heartbroken” by the need to take such a step, but said Israel was facing an “unprecedented crisis of confidence in the government.”
“We have to fight for a country our children want to live in,” the military explained, with some blaming General Halewi, who they said “should have pounded the table” to get the government to stop pushing controversial changes. “We expect it to do so now,” they added.
On Thursday, Israel’s Air Force commander General Bar said the IAF was continuing to operate as normal despite calls from reservists not to report for duty, but added that the current conflict was causing massive damage that would take years to repair.
A wave of protests
The conflict over reform, which has sparked an unprecedented wave of protests in Israel for six months, has entered a decisive phase. The Knesset goes into summer recess at the end of July, and Netanyahu and his allies want one of the key elements of the new legislation to be approved by parliament by then.
It’s about the right to overturn a government decision if Supreme Court considers it “irrational”.
An “irrational” decision is defined as one that disproportionately focuses on political interests without sufficient consideration of the public interest.
An example of this was the judges’ ruling earlier this year in which they found that the appointment of Shas Aryei Deri as interior minister was “unreasonable” due to his criminal record. Deri has been convicted three times for crimes including corruption and tax evasion. This decision put Netanyahu in a difficult position, as he had to refuse a ministerial post to one of the most loyal and influential allies in his coalition. The daily “Haaretz” estimates that Deri’s reinstatement will be one of the first steps if the criterion of rationality is eliminated.
Judicial reform debate
In March, after protests escalated, Netanyahu halted work on the reform and began negotiations with the opposition, hosted by President Herzog, but these talks ended in a fiasco in June, after which the ruling coalition resumed legislative work.
The opposition claims that the changes pose a threat to democracy. Netanyahu defends reforms, believing that the judiciary has excessive power.
Main photo source: PAP/EPA/ATEF SAFADI