“Let my people go.” Those words remind people of the difficult task of compelling Pharaoh to let go of the Israelites after years of enslavement, as recorded in the Bible. On Saturday night, thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, and other parts of the country to once again say: “Let my people go.” This time it was not against Pharaoh or the people of Egypt. It was against its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over his government’s planned judicial overhaul to weaken the powers of the country’s Supreme Court.
Despite rising tension and security threats on Israel, the protesters gathered at strategic places, especially in Tel Aviv, carrying a mighty banner of Netanyahu dressed like a Pharaoh. All they wanted was a complete reversal of the legislation meant to take some powers away from the Judiciary and give the same powers to the parliament.
For over 13 weekends, without a break, these protesters have been gathering in thousands to make their voices heard. Barely two weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu said his government would temporarily pause the legislation after his decision to sack Yoav Gallant as the country’s minister of defence led to serious backlash from top officials of the country, including members of the ruling party.
Organisers of Saturday’s protest believe Mr Netanyahu and his men were planning to continue the process once parliament resumed after the Passover celebration.
In a statement, protest organisers said the government was not serious with its recent pause on the legislation.
“The government of Israel is failing in every area. Instead of scrapping the legislation and focusing on security, its senior ministers are telling the public that they will continue their efforts to turn Israel into a dictatorship once the Knesset recess ends,” a statement by the organisers of the protest reads.
However, there were fears that a protest was dangerous at a time when there are rocket attacks from Palestine and Lebanon. But the protesters were not swayed even by that.
Fighting for the nation and protesting against its leadership
As part of the protest, the country’s reservists refused to show up for work. Pilots and special forces also threatened not to show up should the government continue with the legislation. However, the reservists have called off those threats and shown up for duty. But agreeing to show up for work was not the same as backing down from the protest.
A statement by the protest’s organisers reads: “We will continue our protest against the dictatorship as if there is no war on terror and we will continue to show up for reserve duty and support the IDF and the security forces as if there is no war against the dictatorship.”
Last week, rockets were fired into Israel from Lebanon, after the IDF invaded the Alqsa Mosque to attack worshippers. As tensions are growing, the Israeli Police issued warnings to the protesters on how to go about their demonstrations.
The protesters promised not to block major roads nor disrupt activities marking the Passover, and even promised to work with the police to avoid a conflict. But none of these was enough to cancel the demonstration that has continued for about 13 weeks.
“Terrorism must not be allowed to win,” the statement added.
When will the demonstrations end?
There seems to be no visible end to the protestations against the planned Judicial overhaul by Netanyahu’s government. It could end soon should the government put an end to the controversial legislation that gives so much power to the Knesset.
“We will keep heading to the streets until we are promised the State of Israel will remain a democracy,” the organisers said.
It is estimated that at least 400,000 people joined the protest nationwide on the 13th consecutive week. Should Netanyahu and his men fail to call off the controversial legislation as of next weekend, the protesters would still be on the streets.
Why the legislation is controversial
The ruling party in Israel has proposed legislation to take some powers from the Supreme Court and give such powers to the country’s parliament. Should the legislation go through, the parliament would have the power to overturn decisions made by the country’s Supreme Court.
Since there is no written constitution in Israel, the Judiciary becomes so powerful that it can make laws for the country and even scrap laws that it perceives are not in the interest of Israel. The Supreme Court will also lose the power to check the activities of the Knesset if the legislation becomes law, which will make the parliament too powerful to control.
The majority of citizens see the adjustment as a threat to the country’s democracy and are calling for an immediate halt in the judicial overhaul. But will Netanyahu and his men listen? The answer to that question could either set Israel on fire or save it from a civil war.