(April 27, 2023 / JNS)
The Israeli right is determined to prove that the majority of the nation supports judicial reform with a “March of the Million” rally set for Thursday evening outside the Knesset in Jerusalem.
According to organizers, six million shekels (one point sixty-five million dollars) has been raised for the protest, one million shekels of that through crowdfunding and the rest through large donors and coalition parties. The Religious Zionism Party contributed one point two million shekels and the Likud Party six-hundred-thousand shekels.
One thousand buses will be provided to transport people from across the country, organizers say.
Supporters of reform activists hope to recapture the narrative after sixteen weeks of anti-reform protests have grabbed headlines not only in Israel but worldwide.
Those demonstrations have included blocking highways, confronting pro-reform Knesset members, and IDF soldiers refusing to serve. They have derailed the coalition’s plan to reset the judicial system and forced it into extra-parliamentary negotiations under the auspices of Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, normally a figurehead.
Reformists argue that the opposition is only a minority, albeit an aggressive and vocal one. They insist that most Israelis support the reforms. They point to the Nov. 1 election, where the right won a sixty-four seat majority in Israel’s one-hundred-twenty seat Knesset, and where judicial reform was a top issue for all the coalition parties, contrary to what the opposition claims.
Matan Peleg, CEO of Zionist NGO Im Tirtzu, which has organized hundreds of buses to Thursday’s rally, said in a statement:
“The demonstration is a full-throated endorsement of democracy. After five rounds of elections, the National Camp finally and definitively won an election that represents a clear mandate. Unfortunately, instead of being allowed one-hundred days for the new government to prove itself, they were given one-hundred days of unrelenting opposition, some of which was anarchy.
“The reality is that the real victim of these endless attacks has been democracy itself, as well as Zionism. That is why we are calling on everyone to come to the Knesset today! Defend Democracy! Defend Zionism! Defend the sovereign State of Israel!”
That message is reflected in protest placards, which read: “They won’t steal the election! March of the Million. Reform Now!”
Twenty-nine Zionist NGOs have signed on as sponsors of the event. One of them is the Liba Center, an organization founded in 2013 to strengthen the Jewish character of the state. Oren Henig, its executive director, said that more is at stake than judicial reform as the courts have been captured by activist judges who favor a left-wing, internationalist worldview and seek to undermine Israel’s particularist Jewish identity.
“The demonstration today is very important because the legal reform folds in itself the whole struggle of what kind of country we will have here, a ‘state of all its citizens’ led by the judges or a Jewish state led by those chosen by the majority of the people. The High Court of Justice is a catalyst and a pillar in the effort to force the State of Israel to break away from its Jewish values,” Henig told JNS.
Scheduled to speak at the event are Minister of Justice Yariv Levin and Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Israel Katz of the Likud Party, and Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism Party.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not expected to attend the rally, he is working behind the scenes in support, meeting with stakeholders to ensure that they have the resources to bring people out onto the streets. He has urged haredi coalition members to take part.
The prime minister views the prospective rally as an “expression of public legitimacy” for the governing coalition and, by extension, for its reform program.
Organizers have promised big, declaring that the event will be “the largest demonstration in [Israel’s] history.” Those JNS spoke with expressed confidence they will deliver, citing the protest of March 27. That protest, a spontaneous, day-of-event, brought one-hundred-thousand to the Knesset.
Netanyahu announced later that evening a “timeout” in order to “provide a real opportunity for real dialogue.” The pause for negotiations is to continue until the start of the Knesset’s summer session on Sunday.
The prime minister stressed that his government remains committed to passing judicial reform. “We insist on the need to bring about the necessary corrections to the judicial system. We are taking an opportunity to achieve them with broad agreement.”
He thanked the “tens of thousands” of supporters who came to Jerusalem that night—“spontaneously, unorganized, unfunded, without a media push”—to raise their voices in favor of reform. “Our way is just. A large majority of the public today recognizes the necessity of democratic reform in the judicial system,” Netanyahu said.
Courtesy of JNS Photo credit: Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90
Israelis rally in support of judicial reform in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023.