JERUSALEM – MARCH 27: Israelis, carrying Israeli flags and anti-government placards, gather outside the Knesset to protest against the Israeli government’s plan to introduce judicial changes.
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Mass protests are rocking Israel, and the country’s largest union on Monday announced a major strike in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s months-long attempt to push through widely ridiculed judicial reforms that opponents say will drag the country towards an autocracy.
This is probably the biggest wave of protests in Israel’s history.
“Stop this legal process before it’s too late,” Arnon Bar-David, the leader of Israel’s Histadrut trade union, said in a televised speech, speaking directly to Netanyahu. Histadrut — which, with its 800,000 members, represents the majority of Israeli trade unionists — declared a “historic” general strike to “stop this judicial revolution, this madness,” Bar-David said.
Protests have taken place across Israel over the past four months, sparked by anger over controversial judicial reforms pushed by Netanyahu’s government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history. The planned overhaul would significantly weaken the country’s judicial system and make it harder to remove Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, from power.
The proposed reforms would grant executive control over the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court, and give the government the right to overrule court decisions through a parliamentary majority.
Monday’s protests saw new fervor and would be the largest yet, sparked by Netanyahu’s dismissal of his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for speaking out against the planned measures. Local media report that 600,000 people have come out to demonstrate across the country.
“600,000 demonstrators is an extraordinary number. It means approximately[imately] 6.5% of Israel’s population are demonstrating tonight, many literally waking up from their beds when they heard Bibi fire Gallant,” wrote Monica Marks, professor of Middle East politics at NYU Abu Dhabi, on Twitter. “When was the last time 6+% of any country protested? Real question.”
Earlier Monday, President Isaac Herzog – whose stance is largely ceremonial and apolitical – caught on Twitter ask the administration to suspend its judicial review.
“In the name of the unity of the people of Israel, in the name of accountability, I ask you to immediately stop the legislative process,” he said, according to a Google translation.
“I call on the leaders of all Knesset factions, coalition and opposition alike, to put the citizens of the country above all else and to act responsibly and courageously without further delay. Come to your senses now This is not a political moment, it is a moment of leadership and responsibility.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office announced the dismissal Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had opposed the motion, escalating the protests.
‘We must all stand firm against denials,’ Netanyahu said on Twitter at the time of announcement, without direct reference to Gallant.