Thousands of people turned out Saturday night to protest in Tel Aviv against the new government, after Justice Minister Yariv Levin unveiled plans to overhaul Israel’s judicial system earlier this week.
According to organizers, over 10,000 protesters gathered for the rally at the coastal city’s Habima Square.
Some demonstrators, affiliated with the left-wing Standing Together group and other organizations, marched towards the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and held a rally there. Others held a torchlight march through the streets of the city.
Organizers advertised the protest to all those who were “against the coup d’etat carried out by the criminal government which threatens to harm all citizens whoever they are.”
On Wednesday, Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced a controversial legal reform package that would drastically limit the authority of the High Court of Justice to block legislation and government decisions deemed discriminatory and/or undemocratic, give the government control over judicial selection, and eliminate the legal ministry advisers appointed by the attorney general.
In a joint statement Saturday, Standing Together and the “Crime Minister” protest group charged that “extreme and dangerous elements in the new government” are trying to “harm us all,” accusing the ruling coalition of targeting Arabs and discriminating on the basis of gender and sexuality.
“We won’t sit at home twiddling our thumbs and we won’t lose out to despair and frustration. Wherever there is a battle, there is hope, and we will go out and struggle for our home,” the statement said.
Coalition agreements signed prior to the new government’s swearing-in call for legislation that would allow service providers to refuse service on the grounds of their religious beliefs — an initiative seen by critics as legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ people and other targeted sectors.
“This evening, friends, we have built a new democratic camp. One that includes Jews and Arabs, men and women, straight people and LGBTQ people, secular and religious — united against one evil government and for the sake of a better future in this place,” Yael Lotan and Avner Gvaryahu, the heads of Breaking the Silence, told protesters on Saturday.
Lotan and Gvaryahu emphasized that human rights were not exclusive to Jews and must also extend to Arabs — including non-citizens living in areas that Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
Some of the protesters in Tel Aviv chanted “incitement begins in the halls of government” and “Netanyahu is dangerous, corrupt and racist,” according to the Ynet news site.
A number of MKs attended the rally, including Merav Michaeli and Gilad Kariv from the center-left Labor party, as well as Aymen Odeh, chair of the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al alliance. Former minister Tzipi Livni was also at the rally and gave a speech.
Odeh in a Twitter post alleged that he was verbally and physically attacked after he delivered a speech at the rally.
A video circulating online showed a man accosting Odeh and his entourage, and in a separate video, the same man told a reporter that he had slapped the lawmaker.
There was no immediate comment from the police on the incident.
ח”כ איימן אודה בישם בנאומו הארב להושיט יד למעבוק הדמוקראטי ישראלים בלבד שאו אישים דמוקראטיה עשראם ליודים ולעלעליטין.
הנאום הופרע על ידי קומץ מפגינים ובסיומו אחד אחורעים עפטע את אודה באגרופ. This is how it looked just before the attack: pic.twitter.com/4wgkE80mHs
— ישראל פריע (@freyisrael1) January 7, 2023
“Together with thousands of amazing demonstrators we went out to protest and to yell with a clear voice: we won’t allow the destruction of our country! We will continue to fight for our democracy,” Michaeli, who heads Labor, wrote on Twitter.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.