By Sara Gomez Armas
Tel Aviv, Jan 21 (EFE).- More than 120,000 people turned out here Saturday for a protest against the “anti-democratic policies” of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who previously governed Israel from 1996-1999 and again from 2009-2021 and now heads the most right-wing government in the country’s history.
An anti-government demonstration a week ago brought 80,000 onto the streets of Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, up dramatically from 12,000 on Jan. 7.
Saturday’s mobilization also saw around 4,000 people protest in Jerusalem and roughly 6,000 in Haifa.
“Our children and grandchildren have a right to live in a democratic country. There are many extremist, religious, nearly messianic currents in this government,” an Argentine-born scientist named Diego who has lived in Israel told EFE in Tel Aviv.
“When I came to this country, it was an essentially secular nation in which one could live freely. But now they are limiting our rights,” he said.
The main impetus for the third successive Saturday of protests is Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s plan to limit the authority of the Supreme Court and give politicians the biggest say in choosing judges.
At the heart of the proposal is a provision that would allow a simple majority of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to annul Supreme Court rulings, and would eliminate the tribunal’s power to bar individuals with criminal records from holding high office.
Netanyahu’s coalition holds an absolute majority in the Knesset.
Levin also wants to revamp the Judicial Designation Committee by filling most of the seats with lawmakers from the ruling coalition. Until now, the panel has been a non-partisan body comprising attorneys.
The stakes of the battle were underlined this week when the Supreme Court ordered Aryeh Deri, who holds both the Health and Interior portfolios, to resign from Netanyahu’s Cabinet.
The court found that Deri’s appointments were “unreasonable in the extreme” in light of his past convictions for bribe-taking and tax fraud.
Under current law, Netanyahu must dismiss Deri if he refuses to resign, but the head of government has yet to signal his intentions.
Many protesters carried signs alluding to Netanyahu’s own ongoing trial on charges of bribe-taking, fraud and breach of trust. Critics have suggested that one motive behind the proposed judicial overhaul is finding a way to halt the prosecution of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Opposition politicians have been part of the protests from the start, but Saturday marked the first time that the premier who was toppled in the November election, centrist Yair Lapid, made an appearance.
“What you see here today is a demonstration in support of the country. This is a demonstration for the country. People who love the country have come here today to defend its democracy, to defend its courts, to defend the idea of coexistence and of common good,” he told the crowd in Tel Aviv.
“We will not give up until we win,” Lapid vowed.
Seen alongside the hundreds of Israeli flags were the rainbow banners of the LGBT community, which views the new government as hostile to the liberty of sexual minorities.
While some in the administration have threatened to ban the annual Pride March in Tel Aviv, LGBT people perceive a more serious threat in a proposal to give professionals – including physicians – the right to refuse service based on their religious beliefs.
“It’s discouraging and sad,” said 25-year-old Idan, a gay man who works in the tech sector. EFE sga/dr