March 12 (UPI) — Judicial reforms backed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are seeing a forceful blowback by protesters and political opponents in the streets of Israel.
About 500,000 people across the country, many waving the Israeli flag, have gathered in the streets through the weekend to protest a reform bill that would give the sitting government full authority to make judicial appointments, the BBC reported. Critics say the reform would damage the nation’s democracy, economy and security.
President Isaac Herzog and opposition leader Yair Lapid have called for the proposed changes to be abandoned while Netanyahu claims his political opponents are responsible for stirring backlash. Herzog said the current iteration of the reform bill is “oppressive,” and has called for a pause so parties can meet and find a compromise.
Netanyahu’s camp has expressed some interest in opening talks but remains steadfast that there will be no pause and no preconditions to the reforms.
The epicenter of the protests has been in the capital city Tel Aviv, where an estimated 200,000 people have shown up to voice their opposition to parliament’s expected decision. The Times of Israel reported that hearings on the legislation will be held through Wednesday and a decision may be made within days.
While the battle in parliament continues, the battle over law enforcement controlling the protests reached a fever pitch in recent days. On Thursday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir announced the transfer of Tel Aviv Police Chief Amichai Eshed, who he accuses of being too “soft” on protesters, according to BBC.
The decision would not stick though, with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara overturning Ben-Gvir and placing any change on hold.
Ben-Gvir has taken a hard-line stance against the protests, echoing Netanyahu’s words by calling protesters “anarchists.” Ben-Gvir has been convicted of inciting racism and supporting a Jewish terrorist group, The Times of Israel reported.
Demonstrators gathered outside of Eshed’s home on Friday in a show of support, and opposition to Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai who recommended he be transferred to a training division.
Ben-Gvir is not the only Israeli official to face public criticism.
Dozens of American-Jewish organizations have taken aim at finance minister Bezalel Smotrich — leader of the Religious Zionist Party — after he suggested the Palestinian village in Huwara should be destroyed last week, Haaretz reported.
Smotrich’s comments come as acts of violence have grown more frequent in the West Bank.
More than 100 organizations, which have not typically all been aligned on issues in Israel, stood together to oppose Smotrich’s visit to Washington, D.C., on Sunday.
Smotrich was granted a visa by the Biden administration so he could speak at an investment conference. He has described himself as a “fascist homophobe,” according to The Guardian.
“We are opposed to Bezalel Smotrich visiting the United States later this month in his capacity as Israel’s finance minister, and we call on all pro-Israel Americans to understand that welcoming Smotrich here will harm, rather than help, support for Israel,” a statement signed by American-Jewish leaders reads.
“Smotrich has long expressed views that are abhorrent to the vast majority of American Jews, from anti-Arab racism, to virulent homophobia, to a full-throated embrace of Jewish supremacy. To this list, we can now add his endorsement of violence against innocents based on their ethnic heritage.”
We reject the notion that someone must be accorded respect simply by dint of serving in the Israeli government,” the statement continues.
“His presence in the U.S. to address primarily Jewish audiences would be an affront to American Jewish values, and he should not be given a platform in our community, all the more so in light of his most recent comments about Huwara.”
As Smotrich prepared for his appearance in Washington, another outbreak of violence took place in the West Bank on Sunday morning. Israeli soldiers shot three Palestinians to death near Nablus, according to the Israeli Defense Force and BBC.
The three Palestinians allegedly fired shots at an Israeli army post. The killings continue weeks-long escalation of tension and bloodshed between Palestinians and Israel.