Meet the Israeli protesters opposing Netanyahu’s judicial reform bill

A march in Tel Aviv on March 18. (Afir Berman)

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TEL AVIV — The protests that have rocked Israel since January — the largest continuous series of mass demonstrations in the country’s history — have been unusual not only in scale but in composition.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis voicing their objections to the right-wing government’s plan to bring more control over the judiciary say they have never been regular protesters. They are teachers, technical workers, doctors and pensioners, who are now joining the masses in the rush to block bridges and highways. Almost all of them wave Israeli flags, a symbol of formal right-wing marches.

Many come from the military and intelligence services, where public demonstrations are almost unheard of.

“I’m very careful with the word ‘unprecedented,'” said Dahlia Scheindlin, a Tel Aviv-based pollster and campaign consultant. “Not this time.”

The judicial overhaul would give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition of ultra-Orthodox and nationalist settler parties more power to choose judges and override Supreme Court rulings.

The Washington Post spoke with protesters in Tel Aviv on Thursday to find out why they are on the streets.

Tahel Ilan Ber runs a biogenetics company in the coastal city of Herzliya, part of an explosion of technological innovation that has turbocharged Israel’s reputation as the “nation of startups.” But he grew up in Jerusalem, a center of ultra-Orthodox life, and attuned to the widening divide between religious and secular Israelis.

As the country’s right wing gained influence, Ilan Per was deeply concerned about the increasing dominance of fundamentalism in public life.

“We have political parties that prevent women from contesting as candidates,” she said.

Already, many communities do not allow public transportation to operate on the Sabbath, and some places do not allow men and women to attend events together.

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The push to limit the Supreme Court’s ability to control the government will push religious parties in the coalition further, he said. She did not want her children to grow up in a “theocratic” state.

“People in the high-tech world are not used to doing this,” he said of the mass protests. “But I want my daughter to go to the same beach as her brothers.”

Patya Amir is a teacher in Kfar Saba, a city in central Israel. He immigrated three decades ago from Germany, where he was among those who stood on the Berlin Wall when it fell in 1989. He saw a society divided into two.

“The East Germans told us there would be no barrier, then they rolled down the barbed wire and there was a wall,” Amir said. “I feel like that’s happening here. It’s like suddenly we’re two countries.”

His normally peaceful town is alarmed by the government’s drive to weaken the courts. Some of her neighbors are thinking of leaving the country.

Amir has been protesting every week since the movement began, hoping to prevent a wider divide.

“We didn’t sleep well,” she said. “I want to be here. I am Jewish and I love this country.

David Shalita wears an Israeli flag on his shoulders. He was one of thousands of protesters wearing or waving the national flag — many flashing blue and white clouds over the crowd.

“It’s a symbol for everyone, not just the right,” said Shalitha, a retired animation filmmaker who lives in the ancient port city of Jaffa.

Shalitha feels no need to show her patriotism. He was an active duty and reserve soldier for over 25 years and was a paratrooper in the Golan Heights in 1968. He and his wife, Brava, have come to protest weekly, sometimes more, because he fears for the democracy he has defended. with his life.

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All three of their sons have long served in the military, and all have publicly opposed judicial reform. His only daughter married into an Orthodox family and moved to Jerusalem.

They are close, but “we don’t discuss politics right now,” he said.

Asaph Goodman’s closest experience, before the judicial overhaul was announced three months ago, was participating in a gay pride parade. But now he takes to the streets several times a week, fearing that he will strip away protections for minorities, including his LGBTQ community.

“I fear an Israel where a small majority can revoke all our rights,” he said. “It will be one of a kind Roe v. Wade Happened in America, but here in Israel it’s reversed on steroids.

Goodman, 24, comes from a right-wing, religious family in the northern Israeli city of Malot, where he says intolerance is growing. In schools, they teach that “it is not proper to leave the room. … If this reform is passed, that is the direction this country is headed.

A graduate of the elite 8200 military intelligence unit, who works as a data security specialist at one of Tel Aviv’s lucrative tech companies, he says he might leave Israel if he is replaced. Many of his friends are already there.

“It’s one thing,” he said of his decision to fight judicial reform or Canada.

Eyal Radzkowski has bigger things on his mind than homework and high school. He identifies as a Zionist who loves Israel but thinks far-right settlers wield too much power in the government, threatening to worsen Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank.

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A recent Knesset decision to legalize several major settlement outposts in the northern West Bank will encourage other settlers to build there and escalate violent tensions with Palestinians, he said.

“It’s going to be hell,” Radzkowski said.

He is still considering whether to serve in the army when he turns 18, which is required of all Jewish Israelis. He has been fighting the occupation for years and fears the new law will make it worse.

“It’s going to be bad for everybody,” he said. “They’ll bring the tactics of the West Bank here so we can’t fight it.”

Yetid Ben Zakai deferred his mandatory military service to study Torah at a yeshiva in the southern Israeli city of Dimona, where many of his family and friends support judicial reform. But he is troubled by the deep social divisions it has caused.

“It pains me to know that this is hurting so many people in the country,” he said. “But the Supreme Court has not done well, for example, on issues related to terrorism, they let them go too easily. The courts seem to be left-wing.

He said he sees the Supreme Court as an elite body of minorities. But he also admitted that he did not understand what the restructuring was about or what its impact would be on Israel.

“I’m here to start a conversation, to stop the divide from getting any bigger,” he said. “I don’t want to think about civil war. It’s a thought that terrifies me.

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