By: Zach Winters  | 

Unpack With YUPAC: Bibi’s Protests and Reforms

The Tel Aviv nightlife has turned from dancing to chanting as protesters come together to make their voices heard. Another night means another massive showing from the residents of the city against the new right-wing Israeli government and new Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu. By the night of Saturday, Jan. 28, 100,000 demonstrators had already been counted as participating, as the protests entered their third consecutive week. These protests are not native just to Tel Aviv, as across Israel — in Jerusalem, Haifa and Beer Sheva — there have also been nightly demonstrations.

The enthusiasm for the protests has, however, been more subdued in recent weeks following the terrorist attack that killed seven Jews in Jerusalem on Friday night, and the shooting near the Old City on Saturday. Israeli leaders were very vocal about the recent attacks and expressed condolences in statements on social media. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid attended a rally in Jerusalem Saturday night, where he lit a candle in memory of the seven victims. Additionally, in Tel Aviv head of the Labor party, Merav Michaeli, also lit a candle in memory of the victims who were murdered in Neve Yaakov. Lapid said in a statement, “The government needs to choose if it wants to fight against terror or if it wants to fight against Israeli democracy, if it wants to unite us or break us up from the inside.” Former Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister Benny Gantz tweeted, “Against terror, the entire nation must unite.” This tragedy has shaken citizens to the core and strengthened many of the Israeli’s rights positions on settlements in the West Bank. Some would think that the Israeli left would also look to the right-wing government to be harsh on these terrorists and stop the protesting; however, they recently found a new issue to demonstrate about. 

Protests have spiked since Justice Minister Yariv Lavin rolled out a new plan which would overhaul the judiciary, limiting the authority of the High Court of Justice to block government decisions deemed undemocratic or block legislation. This law would also eliminate ministry legal advisors appointed by the attorney general and give the government control over judicial selection. Many Israelis, primarily on the left, believe that this move by Netanyahu and his right-wing government to weaken the judicial system which “ultimately aims to crush Israeli’s democracy.” These words were uttered by former Supreme Court Justice, Menachem Mazuz, at a conference in Tel Aviv on Saturday. He explained that “The public isn't stupid and doesn't buy the spin. The public understands that there is a coup d'état here that will have consequences in all areas of life. We see how group after group within the Israeli society joins and expresses opposition to the government's moves … and the public who come out in droves week after week for mass demonstrations.” Netanyahu’s block believes that the bill would restore balance between the judiciary, executive and legislature. He explained that “Corrections (to the legal system) must be done responsibly and with careful consideration while hearing all the positions and that's exactly the process that will now take place in the legislature.”

Unfortunately for Netanyahu, this isn’t the first time in recent weeks that he has been involved with the High Court of Israel. Last week, Netanyahu was forced “with a heavy heart” by the High Court of Israel to dismiss one of his top allies and leader of the Shas Party, Aryeh Deri, from the cabinet. While there was speculation Deri would not accept his resignation, after the court decision “it was clear” to him that he would leave the government and his posts as interior and health minister. While he will not be in the cabinet he explained that, “No judicial decision will prevent me from serving and representing,” and that he would not be withdrawing from political life. While he listened to the High Court and the left-wing coalition this time, only time will tell if Netanyahu will listen again or remain steadfast in his mission to change the judicial system in Israel.

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Photo Caption: Protests in Tel Aviv against judicial reforms, Jan. 16

Photo Credit: Yuval Talya Nehemia via Wikimedia Commons