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 reforms.
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Mass protests rocked Israel, and the country’s largest labor union announced a major strike on Monday in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s months-long attempt to push through widely derided judicial reforms that opponents say which will drag the country towards an autocracy.
This is possibly the largest wave of demonstrations in Israel’s history.
“Stop this judicial process before it’s too late,” Arnon Bar-David, head of Israel’s Histadrut union, said in a televised speech, responding directly to Netanyahu. The Histadrut – which, at 800,000 members, represents the majority of Israel’s unionists – has 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, fueled 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 judiciary and make it harder to remove Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, from power.
The proposed reforms would give executive control over the appointment of Supreme Court judges, as well as giving the government the right to overturn court decisions through a parliamentary majority.
Monday’s demonstrations took on new vigor and were reportedly the largest yet, sparked by Netanyahu’s firing of his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for speaking out against the planned measures. Local news outlets are reporting that a whopping 600,000 people turned out to protest across the country.
“600,000 showing up is an extraordinary figure. It means approx[imately] 6.5% of Israel’s population turned out to protest tonight, many literally roused from their beds when they heard Bibi fired Gallant,” wrote Monica Marks, a professor of Middle East politics at NYU Abu Dhabi, on Twitter. “When was the last time 6 +% of any country protested? That’s a real question.”
Earlier on Monday, President Isaac Herzog – whose position is largely ceremonial and apolitical – took to Twitter to call on the administration to block his judicial review.
“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” he said, according to a Google translation.
“I implore the leaders of all Knesset factions, coalition and opposition, to put the people of the country above all else, and act responsibly and courageously without further delay. Wake up now! This is not a political moment, it’s a moment for leadership and responsibility.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office the dismissal was announced of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who opposed the motion, protests intensified.
“We must all stand strong against the denials,” Netanyahu said on Twitter around the time of the announcement, without directly referring to Gallant.