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Judicial reform protests continue for 20th week following one week break during Gaza conflict

With legislation on hold, the coalition budget has become the new battleground

Israelis protest the current Israeli government, in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2023. (Photo: Omer Fichman/Flash90)

After taking a one-week break during Operation Shield and Arrow, judicial reform protests resumed Saturday night for the 20th week. 

Protests were paused last week due to rocket attacks by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which sounded air raid sirens, even in Tel Aviv.

As in previous demonstrations, the main protest event took place on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv's center, with smaller events across the country.

While judicial reform legislation is paused during compromise talks at the residence of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, much of the protest discussion has shifted from reform legislation to the coalition’s proposed budget.

Perhaps reflecting the reduced sense of crisis, with reform legislation on hold, the demonstrations this week did not draw as many protestors. Hebrew media estimated around 150,000 protestors nationwide during last night’s events.

The opposition has been sharply critical of the budget, which awards billions of shekels to ultra-Orthodox interests without requiring them to compromise on issues such as military service, core studies in yeshivas, and economic assistance to ultra-Orthodox men who do not work.

Protest leaders said the budget “plunders the public coffers.”

Opposition member Avigdor Liberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu party and former finance minister, had harsh words for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning, particularly in light of the proposed budget.

Speaking to N12 news, Liberman said Netanyahu “deserves to suffer in hell every day.”

Liberman contrasted his own actions, in which he agreed to budget increases to the ultra-Orthodox educational system on the condition that core studies, such as mathematics, science, as well as job skills, be added to the curriculum.

“I agreed to give a lot of money in exchange for core studies,” said Liberman. “What Netanyahu did, and for which he deserves to suffer in hell every day, he took those people and said: 'I’ll give you the same funds without studying core studies. I want to leave you in poverty, without education, so that you will suffer.'”

Liberman said Netanyahu is acceding to coalition demands in order to remain at the country's helm.

“The man is willing to sell all values in exchange for power,” he said.

Liberman also repeated his call to opposition leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid to abandon the compromise talks, saying they are “a serious mistake" and that the talks have not produced results and are only benefit Netanyahu.

“What they did was help Netanyahu get this far, to the day the budget was passed,” Liberman claimed.

Lapid issued an ultimatum at last night’s rally in Herzliya, saying that the Knesset, which chooses representatives for the Judicial Selection Committee next month, must “include an opposition representative.”

Lapid urged that the Knesset must “convene the committee immediately and start working in accordance with the rules that were in place throughout the year.”

“Without this, the entire dialogue is a scam, and we won’t lend our hand to a scam,” Lapid continued.

The Judicial Selection Committee has been a point of contention in negotiations, with the coalition trying to gain more government control over the selection process, while the opposition prefers to leave the selection process as it stands.

Netanyahu is also facing pressure within his coalition.

United Torah Judaism party chairperson, Yitzhak Goldknopf, has demanded an additional NIS 600 million ($165 million) budget increase for ultra-Orthodox institutions that don’t teach core curriculum. He said if the budget increase does not happen by Sunday morning, he would resign.

Netanyahu is under increasing pressure as the coalition must pass a budget before the end of the month, or else the Knesset will automatic dissolve and the country will be forced to go to additional elections.

Recent polling suggests that the current coalition would not win sufficient votes to retain power if elections were held today.

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

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