Last Saturday night, 80,000 Israelis flooded into the streets of Tel Aviv in the rain to protest Benjamin Netanyahu and his new government’s proposed changes to the country’s judicial system. This weekend, fueled by a forecast of fair weather and a controversial High Court ruling this week, more mass protests are expected, not only in Tel Aviv but in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Beersheba.
On Wednesday, the High Court issued an explosive ruling declaring that one of Netanyahu’s key powerbrokers, Ultra-Orthodox Shas party chief Aryeh Deri, is unfit to hold public office and cannot serve as a minister in the government. Deri has repeatedly been convicted of bribery and tax fraud but has evaded being permanently barred from politics and spent several years in jail two decades ago. Just last year, Deri was convicted of tax fraud but avoided being barred for seven years from holding office because he promised to retire from politics. However, he ran for office again in the elections last fall instead. Deri has been a fierce critic of Messianic Jews, and when he led the interior ministry, some Messianic Jews were denied citizenship.
In a 10 to 1 ruling, Israel’s High Court of Justice said that Deri serving as the new Interior and Health Minister was “unreasonable in the extreme.” Following the decision, Israel’s Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara sent a letter to Netanyahu demanding Deri be removed from office immediately. Deri’s supporters are countering with a vow to pass new legislation to reinstate Deri and demanding that Netanyahu make Deri his alternate prime minister instead.
According to the organizers, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, two protest sites are planned for this weekend’s events in Tel Aviv.
“Faced with the threat of the collapse of Israeli democracy, we must be determined and show the government that we will not sit quietly,” the Movement said in a statement. “The masses who flooded [Habima] Square and the surrounding streets were just the beginning of a battle that will only get bigger.”
Another protest group, the Black Flags, called on opposition leaders such as Lapid and Gantz to stand with the people in the streets.
“Following the attack on the judicial system over Deri’s disqualification and the calls from within the coalition to disobey the ruling, the organizers of the demonstration are calling on the heads of the opposition parties to announce that they will come to the mass demonstration and stand at the head of the protest march. We will scream ‘no to dictatorship.’ We will start there and keep going — until this bad government and the person leading it are brought down.”
Last weekend, among the 80,000 in attendance were several familiar faces from the opposition (from the Lapid-Bennett government and before)—Benny Gantz (former Defense Minister), Tzipi Livni, former prime minister Ehud Barak, Ra’am party (Arab) leader Mansour Abbas and several others.
Understand, this is not about the politics of Netanyahu but how he has had to compromise on key issues to convince his far-right partners to join his coalition. There is no question that Deri, a convicted felon, should not be a minister in Israel’s cabinet. Only the Supreme Court could enforce what Deri agreed to when convicted the last time on tax evasion. However, the new government wants the freedom to override the court with a simple majority—something that would be dangerous in any democracy.
Opposition leader (and former prime minister) Yair Lapid is expected to join the protests this weekend (he skipped the one last Saturday).