Tens of thousands of Israelis protested in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on Sunday July against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform legislation, which is set for a vote Monday, the New York Times reported.
The protests come as military reservists from all branches of the army renewed their threats to stop showing up for reserve duty if the legislation is passed, and as Israel’s largest trade union considers calling for a general strike. Protesters included some who walked 65 km over four days from Tel Aviv, camping along the way. On Sunday morning, they gathered to pray at the Western Wall and form a human chain stretching to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. As tensions flared, Netanyahu was hospitalized and received a pacemaker:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was recovering in a hospital on Sunday after an emergency heart procedure while opposition to his government's contentious judicial overhaul plan reached a fever pitch and unrest gripped the country.
Netanyahu's doctors said on Sunday the heart pacemaker implantation went smoothly and that Netanyahu, 73, felt fine. According to his office, he was expected to be discharged later in the day.
Protesters also set up tents in a park near the Knesset, to prepare for additional protests in the coming days, as tomorrow's vote nears. Protests took place in other cities as well, marking the 29th week of protests against the judicial reform bill.
In addition to the protests, the country’s largest union, the Histadrut, announced Saturday that it was holding an emergency meeting in response to the government’s plan, possibly to discuss calling a general strike, while 10,000 army reservists and 1,000 air force members declared their intention in recent days to stop showing up for reserve duty if the judicial reform passes.
Netanyahu’s governing coalition, which includes politicians representing more religious segments of Israeli society, such as Jewish supremacist ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, is planning a vote this week to pass a reform bill that would limit the powers of Israel’s supreme court, which is currently able to block enactment of laws passed by the Knesset on grounds of lack of “reasonableness.”
Those protesting the reform are largely secular, and according to the New York Times, fear that the legislation will make it easier for the government to enforce ultra-Orthodox Jewish practice in public life and for government leaders to get away with corruption, including Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for bribery and fraud.
UPDATE: The protest march against Netanyahu's judicial overhaul reached the outskirts of Jerusalem. According to the organizers' assessment, around 30K people are marching pic.twitter.com/ZjWLuA8Lku— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) July 22, 2023
Israel’s military leaders also worry the divisions the legislation is causing in Israeli society are weakening the country’s military capacity, which is crucial for continuing the ongoing illegal occupation and colonization of the West Bank and siege on Gaza. These concerns come as Palestinian armed resistance groups in the West Bank have grown stronger, repelling major Israeli assaults into Jenin and Nablus in recent months, and as the missile capabilities of Lebanese Hezbollah, to Israel’s north, and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, to Israel’s south, have grown as well.
These concerns led a group of former senior Israeli security leaders to release a joint letter in recent days calling on Netanyahu to postpone a vote on the law unless it was revised by consensus, citing the reservists’ protests and the resulting risks to Israel’s military capacity.
In contrast, Netanyahu’s government says the Supreme Court has too often acted against the interests of the religious settler movement, including blocking the construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank in certain instances, or striking down certain privileges granted to ultra-Orthodox Jews, like exemption from military service.
Israeli is at a breaking point: Tel Aviv protests are bigger than ever, well over 100,000. Hundred of thousands throughout the country. The Israeli society is being torn at the seams as Netanyahu to pass legislation on Monday-the next 48 hours are crucial. pic.twitter.com/XdInTQzDah— Louis Fishman لوي فيشمان לואי פישמן (@Istanbultelaviv) July 22, 2023
Despite calls from the protest movement to protect what they describe as Israeli democracy, the protesters have not called for the Netanyahu government to cease illegal settlement building on occupied and stolen Palestinian land, to end Israel’s over 75-year-long military occupation of Palestine, or to extend the same rights to Palestinians that Israeli Jews enjoy under Israeli law.