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As Knesset returns from recess, hundreds of thousands across Israel continue to protest judicial reforms

Protest leaders plan ‘National Equality Day’ rallies for Thursday

Thousands of Israelis protest the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Apr. 29, 2023. (Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Large-scale protests continued across Israel on Saturday night, ahead of the Israeli Knesset's summer session 'kickoff' on Sunday morning.

Protest organizers reported that some 430,000 people participated nationwide, with the largest rally taking place in Tel Aviv, as usual.

The main protest rally was held, once again, on Kaplan Street, where organizers announced they would continue protests on Thursday, calling it “National Equality Day.” The rallies on Thursday will reportedly protest against the lack of equality in Israel, as the government is allegedly working to pass a bill which would exempt all ultra-Orthodox men from mandatory military service.

During the demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, organizers broadcast a video address from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who affirmed his support of the protest movement.

“Dear Israeli friends, we as Socialist International have always fought for freedom, equality, justice and democracy,” Sanchez said in the video. “Yet as many of you already know, these are values that we cannot take for granted and that we have to promote and defend on a daily basis. As such, now, as always, the Socialist Internationalist stands in solidarity with the people of Israel. Dear friends, you will always find us in the fight for democracy,” Sanchez said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen criticized the airing of the video.

“No foreign entity will decide for the Israeli public, and I’m sure that Sanchez had no such intention. As someone who supports the reform, I have no doubt that it will strengthen democracy and balance out authority,” Cohen tweeted.

As in past weeks, opposition party leaders spoke at various rallies around the country.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz spoke to crowds in Ra’anana, condemning a speech made by Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a pro-judicial reform rally on Thursday in Jerusalem.

It is unacceptable that a justice minister, “who is supposed to develop and strengthen the system, attacks and incites against it,” Gantz said of Levin, adding, “We will not allow extremists from either side to take control of the country," while some in the crowd shouted, “No more talks!”

Gantz’s National Unity party, along with Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party, are currently holding judicial reform compromise discussions. Many in the protest movement are opposed to the talks and any type of judicial reform.

Lapid, who is leading the opposition, attended a protest in Kfar Saba in central Israel. He also spoke out against Levin's speech, saying, “The person who declared war on the Supreme Court cannot be, and will not be, the person who appoints the next president of the Supreme Court.”

Former Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, another opposition leader, spoke at a protest in Beersheva, where he called on Gantz and Lapid to end the negotiations.

"I call to Gantz and Lapid: Announce immediately that you are ending all negotiations with the Netanyahu government. Any compromise gives the other side a goal, from the perspective of the opposition, and provides support to the messianic government."

[In Israel, the religious Zionist political parties are sometimes referred to as ‘messianic’ because of their belief that resettling the land of Israel is a religious obligation which will lead to the coming of the Messiah. Those parties have no connection to Messianic Judaism, the belief of ethnic Jews that Jesus (Yeshua) is the Messiah.]

Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar, who openly called for compromise dialogue before the pause in judicial reforms, said if negotiations fail, the government will advance the legislation unilaterally.

While repeatedly stating that the coalition prefers compromise, Zohar also added, "If God forbid, we don't reach an agreement, we will advance reform unilaterally."

He said the coalition promised judicial reforms and needs to deliver on its promises to maintain trust with the right-wing public.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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