Israel awoke this Thursday to a day of “escalating resistance to the dictatorship”, an expression used by organizers of the nationwide protest expected to bring hundreds of thousands of people to the streets with “unrest” planned in 150 locations. The day of questioning the ruling coalition’s judicial reform began hours after Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a compromise proposed by President Isaac Herzog. “Anyone who thinks that a real civil war, of human life, is a line we won’t reach, has no idea,” Herzog warned.
As in the previous two weeks, there are protesters blocking some of Israel’s main roads and highways and demonstrations outside universities, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem and the US consulate in Tel Aviv. At least seven protesters were arrested in the morning, including five who had redlined the Supreme Court.
There are also reservists on the streets of Haifa and religious groups gathered in Tel Aviv with signs reading “Judaism and democracy, one voice.” But in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city that on Tuesday night was the scene of clashes between supporters and opponents of government reform, there are reservists chanting “Go into the Army” — the ultra-Orthodox, a growing percentage of the population, are not required to serve the compulsory military service of almost three years for men and two years for women.
“The abyss is so close that we can touch it,” Herzog warned in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday night. Israel, the head of state said, is “in the midst of a real crisis”, but also “in front of a huge opportunity”. The majority of Israelis, he emphasized, “want a plan that brings justice and peace.” The presidency is an essentially symbolic position, but given the current crisis, Herzog is trying to broker negotiations between members of the coalition, which includes the most far-right parties in Israel (far-right and ultra-Orthodox) and the opposition.
The so-called judicial reform aims to give the government greater control over the appointment of judges, which will be made by a committee made up of three ministers, the president of the Supreme Court, two judges and two civil servants (chosen by agreement between the president of the Supreme Court and the Minister of Justice). At the same time, the Supreme Court would lose the power to reinstate laws it deems unconstitutional – the country has no Constitution, but a set of basic laws that operate as such – with Parliament, i.e. the majority in power, able to reverse the your decisions.
“Unfortunately, the coalition representatives did not agree with the President’s proposals,” Netanyahu said. “The central element of the proposals he offered only perpetuates the current situation and does not bring the necessary balance between the forces [executivo e judiciário]. This is the unfortunate truth,” the prime minister said before flying to Berlin, a trip delayed by the talks and from which he will return earlier, as early as this Thursday (hundreds of protesters gathered at the airport trying to prevent a departure).
Despite the government’s intransigence, the first dissenting voice emerged, with David Bitan, an MP and veteran Likud member (from Netanyahu) proposing to freeze the legislation to “calm the country down” and allow the coalition to review the plan . “The delay is not a problem,” he said in an interview with the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. Although he is the first member of the coalition supporting the government in Parliament to submit a proposal in this sense, Bitan also disagrees with what Herzog presented to the parties.
“You will be able to figure out who you are and what you want to do if Israel continues to be a free and democratic country with equality,” former Foreign and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (she was a member of To Likud before forming the his center-left party, Hatnua), addressing protesters in Tel Aviv. “That’s what we’re fighting for. This is our country, this is our flag. We live here and we will keep this country democratic.”