Chaos in Knesset while 70,000 protest outside as government advances judicial crackdown

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Chaos in Knesset while 70,000 protest outside as government advances judicial crackdown

Protesters were chanting “shame” and “this isn’t Hungary” in a mass demonstration outside Israel's parliament.

Scenes of chaos during a Constitution Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, on February 13, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Scenes of chaos during a Constitution Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, on February 13, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

At least 70,000 Israelis demonstrated outside The Knesset on Monday as the government advanced its judicial reforms that will significantly weaken the High Court of Justice. 

The entire area surrounding the Knesset was blocked, with demonstrators shouting “shame” and “this isn’t Hungary” in yet another show of contempt for Prime Minister Netanuyahu’s government, which so far has refused to compromise on its judicial reforms.

Extra trains were called in to transport thousands of protesters from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while a nationwide strike was held by workers from the high-tech sector, law firms and private companies. Some 300 tech companies and venture capital funds encouraged their workers to demonstrate.

Israeli protestors outside Knesset, Israel. Credit: Jewish News.

Speaking to Jewish News outside The Knesset, David Lenitz from the central Israeli city of Ra’anana, said he was still optimistic that the judicial overhaul could be stopped.

“Eventually they will feel the pressure. I haven’t seen anything like this in Israel before. The amount of people that show up every week to these protests really surprised me. Protest WhatsApp groups just exploded within hours when they announced their reform plan (in early January),” Lenitz said.


In between the sea of Israeli flags, numerous signs depicted Hungary’s Victor Orban alongside Netanyahu, a clear message to the government that its reforms will remove the checks and balances needed in a liberal democracy and thus turn Israel into a country like Hungary.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid addressed the protest, saying: “We will not stay quiet. We will not stay quiet as they destroy everything that is precious and sacred to us.”

“They hear us, and suddenly discover that we’re not ready to play the game the way they planned it. We’re not here just to pay taxes,” he added.

Netanyahu lashed out at the opposition and the protesters in a video message after the protests, saying: “The opposition is going wild in the Knesset and its lawmakers are jumping on chairs, (Tel Aviv Mayor) Ron Huldai is expressly inciting violence, and in the left-wing protest they are calling the prime minister a traitor. Get a grip. Show responsibility and leadership.”

Netanyahu referred to the drama that occurred on Monday morning at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee where some opposition lawmakers jumped over the table, shouting “shame” at chairman Simcha Rhotman.

Following the mass demonstration and President Herzog’s appeal to all parties to reach a compromise on the reforms, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Simcha Rhotman, issued a joint statement, inviting both Lapid and Gantz to meet at Herzog’s office to negotiate.

Rhotman and Levin are seen as the architects of the reforms, and the most aggressively pushing for a dramatic overhaul of the system, while other Likud lawmakers have expressed a willingness to tone down some of the changes.

Israel’s lack of a constitution has given the High Court power to strike down legislation passed in Knesset if they were seen as harmful to civil and human rights.

Likud, as well as the ultra-orthodox and far-right parties in the coalition, see the High Court as the long arm of the “left-wing elite” which has struck down bills unnecessarily throughout the years.

For Netanyahu’s government, the reforms are needed to “strengthen” Israel’s democracy. A government representing the majority of the people should be able to pass any legislation it wants, according to them.

This, however, has been widely criticised by the High Court itself, the attorney general, the high-tech sector, top economists, university presidents and former high ranking security and intelligence officials.

One particular issue has been raised in recent weeks, namely the economic ramifications of the judicial overhaul, especially after top economists warned that it would scare foreign investors.

“What the government really needs is our money. So if companies stop investing in Israel, they will change their minds,” Lenitz said.

Dan Rador, an Israeli man in his 40’s, also came to the demonstration on Monday with an Israeli flag in his hand, backing up the claim made by top economists. “Investors aren’t big fans of dictatorships,” he told Jewish News. 

Benny Gantz, leaded of the National Unity party, welcomed the mass demonstration on Monday, saying: “Just because you have the majority, you don’t have the authority to do whatever you want. Just like if you were a bus driver, you can’t write the rules of the road.”

Gantz went on to say that his party is “calling for discussion” but that there won’t be any “until this crazy process stops,” referring to the legislative blitz.

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