Between songs in favor of democracy, rhythms of drums and a festive atmosphere, over 100,000 people gathered in Jerusalem yesterday to protest the judicial reform of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which was forced to freeze its controversial plan after the pulse driven by the massive wave of protests.
Amid a general strike, including the paralysis of key infrastructure such as Tel Aviv Airport, roadblocks and acts of civil disobedience since Sunday night, tens of thousands of Israelis surrounded parliament to reiterate their strong opposition to the plan.
It was the culmination of a sustained protest movement that cornered the right-wing executive, forced Netanyahu to back down and made a display of civic strength unheard of in Israel.
Proof of this was the large extent of the spontaneous protests across the country on Sunday after the resignation of the Minister of Defense, when more than 600,000 people took to the streets, and which continued yesterday with a new round of mobilizations in Jerusalem, one of the most mass movement of the last decades in the Holy City.
Many of those mobilized saw the paralysis of reform as “a victory” for citizen mobilization, but they agree that they will not stop the protests until they are buried.
“We have to continue protesting” because “the government is going too far,” he told Efe. Beca Sousa, a 59-year-old woman who, like so many others mobilized, waved the Israeli flag and urged the Executive to keep a pulse to completely overthrow the plan.
She was also skeptical of Netanyahu’s move to stall reform. As other protesters have reiterated, he sees this as a ploy to “make people go home” and then resume the process unopposed, “when everyone is calm and relaxed.”
The reform would undermine Israel’s judicial independence, separation of powers and formal democratic foundations, critics say, leading particularly secular and liberal sectors of the population to take to the streets in the past three months.
This includes people who have never participated in protests before, like Daniela, a 64-year-old woman who joined the protests.
For her part, she and other participants agreed that the protests “are not from the left or the right”, but from Israel’s struggle to “maintains as a democratic state, that’s all”.
In the same vein, he expressed dotan becka 28-year-old student who expressly traveled to Jerusalem from the city of Herzliya to be in the mobilization “until necessary”.
“I think Israel will become much stronger and become a better democracy at the end of it all. We are here to make that happen as soon as possible,” he told Efe while wearing the country’s flag.
In this wave of protests, the main absentees are the Palestinians. Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, 20% of the population, did not feel compelled to protest. For the most part, they believe that their rights as a minority are not really being claimed and see what happened as a conflict between sectors of Jewish-Israeli society.
The Palestinian question and the occupation of Palestinian territories were not priority themes in the protests, although, as on other days, today there was a small group of Israeli activists who displayed Palestinian flags and called for an end to the occupation.
“There is no such thing as democracy with occupation,” this group of protesters chanted, as what appeared to be undercover Israeli police seized their flags and arrested some of them.
The controversy surrounding judicial reform has also exacerbated the polarization of Israeli society, and Jerusalem bears witness to this today. After the massive outcry by anti-reform demonstrators, far-right and right-wing partners of the Israeli government such as Minister Bezalel Smotrich called on their supporters to gather in the Holy City in an equally extensive counter-demonstration.
“The people demand judicial reform”, sang thousands of people who also gathered near the Parliament, in a protest that, among others, brought together religious Zionists, Netanyahu voters, Orthodox Jews, residents of the occupied West Bank colonies and distant supporters. Right member of the Beitar Jerusalem football club.
All this in the midst of a growing tension in which the internal conflicts of the Israeli population are accentuated. Netanyahu warned of this today and said that the country is heading towards “a dangerous accident”for which he urged action to avoid “a civil war”.