A sea of umbrellas flooded the usually dry Tel Aviv as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets this weekend to protest against government changes to the Israeli legal system.
Crowds congregated on HaBima square in central Tel Aviv and were addressed by prominent Israeli politicians including retired Supreme Court justice Ayala Procaccia and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni who rejected the reforms saying: “In Israel, nobody will be above the law, not even the prime minister,”
Lightning illuminates the sky while thousands of Israelis protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, on haBima square in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2023. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
At the heart of protesters' concerns was the Netanyahu government's plans to drastically change the role of the Supreme Court in the Israeli political system. Under the proposed changes, the court would be unable to strike down legislation passed in the Knesset, which critics say would be an unprecedented alteration to the balance of power in Israel.
The protest contained groups from all parts of Israeli society, including former IDF officers.
Retired Israeli Air Force Brigadier General Relik Shafir, who represented a group of IAF veterans at the protest, told the JC: "We are all gathering to show our support for the Israeli system of liberalism, democracy and Jewish values, the way it was meant in the Declaration of Independence.”
Thousands of Israelis protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, on haBima square in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2023. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
There was also some criticism from members of Netanyahu's own party. Shlomo Menachem, a self-described 'sane' Likudnik told the JC: “What happened today in the government and in our country is terrible. We must stop it immediately.”
“Today in the newspaper it said that 50% of the Likudnikim are against this process, against what happened today in our country. So, we need to stop and return the intelligence and the common sense in our country.”
The organisers of this week's protest have pledged to return to the streets every week until the government's plans are withdrawn.
Earlier this week, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir told a meeting of his party, “I’m in favor of protests, but anyone who blocks roads and who gets wild needs to be arrested.
“If you use water cannons in Jerusalem on Charedi people, I expect you to do the same in Tel Aviv."
Other members of the government dismissed the protest, with Finance Minister Bezazlel Smotrich dismissing both the media coverage and the scale of the protest, saying: “During the year of the left-wing government, we protested again and again. there was no live coverage.
“Despite that, we took down the government and won the election. The nation is with us. And with that power, we will carry out reforms to the justice system."