“The Supreme Court is a fascist dictatorship!” The privileged will not decide for us! Pressed against each other in a compact square, the demonstrators gathered in support of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been shouting for a long time when the stampede broke out.
Leaping over an embankment, as if out of nowhere, the far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir begins to cut through the crowd, surrounded by his bodyguards. It is his appearance that causes the commotion: new ally of Mr. Netanyahu, he is welcomed as a hero by fiery supporters who elbow to shake his hand. In a flash, he finds himself on stage, accompanied by the group of policemen who do not leave him alone.
In a short, well-rehearsed speech, he explains why, in his opinion, the government is right to want to reform the Israeli judicial system. A system which, in its defense of individual rights, refuses to execute captured terrorists, he is offended. A system that refuses to grant judicial immunity to the military. A system that declared potentially illegal his attempt to create a national guard parallel to the police, which he would personally lead.
Time to greet a few supporters and take the child of an admirer in his arms, he has already left.
Itamar Ben-Gvir’s presence in the Council of Ministers would have seemed impossible until recently. The provocative 46-year-old lawyer is a supporter of the expulsion to neighboring countries of a part of the Israeli Arabs, he advocates the outright annexation of a majority of the Palestinian territories and he has faced several criminal charges over the course of his life. of her career. He was convicted twice, for supporting a far-right Zionist terrorist group and inciting racism.
Last October, when he was just a backbencher, he visited a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem to remind residents “who owns them.” When residents threw rocks at him, he pulled out a gun and asked the police officers present to shoot. He publicly lamented that officers were afraid to open fire that day.
Since December 29, he finds himself Minister of National Security, responsible for the police forces of the whole country, within the coalition led by Benyamin Netanyahu, the most right-wing government that Israel has known in 75 years of government. ‘history.
Stuck in a corruption trial, abandoned by former allies, Binyamin Netanyahu managed to return to power last fall by allying himself with small extremist parties, including ultra-religious political formations and the “Jewish Force” party of Itamar Ben-Gvir. Together they proposed a controversial reform of the judicial system to give more control to the government. The project casts a wide net: it notably affects the mode of selection of judges and the attorney general (an apolitical post) and would give the parliamentary majority the power to ignore a decision of the Supreme Court.
This attempt to change the way the country works has provoked huge demonstrations, strikes and protests by reservists who have threatened to no longer serve in the army. Benyamin Netanyahu, who can always count on a solid bloc of convinced voters, has seen his rating drop in the polls.
Although 84% of respondents believe that changes are needed in the country’s judicial system, only 32% support all of the reforms proposed by the government, according to a survey carried out in February by the Planning Institute of a policy for the Jewish people. A majority of 60% of respondents believed that the current political crisis could lead to violence.
Pushed to its limits, Mr. Netanyahu agreed to put his project on hold at the end of March to seek a compromise. His supporters are trying to show their strength by taking to the streets in turn.
“The people demand judicial reform,” the crowd continues to chant. The scene takes place last Saturday in Netanya, 30 km north of the Tel Aviv metropolis. That day, the pro-Netanyahus were greatly outnumbered by the opponents of the reform, who were demonstrating a few blocks away, separated by a police cordon.
“I think people are waking up,” said Ohad Tal, a member of the Religious Zionist Party, an ally of the prime minister. It is not natural for the coalition [in power in Parliament] to come out and demonstrate,” he observes to explain the difficulty of attracting as many demonstrators as the opposition groups.
He smiles when it is pointed out to him that Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mélanie Joly, has expressed concern about the judicial reform project.
He argues that democracies around the world should stand together with the Israeli government in the face of its enemies, despite their differences of opinion. “Iran sees no difference between Canada, Israel, the United States and Europe. They want to destroy us,” he believes.
Tali Gottlieb, MP for Likud, Benyamin Netanyahu’s party, came to harangue her supporters too. “Raise your head!” Have a leader mentality, not a slave mentality! Stop apologizing! “, she tells them.
When she settles down to give an interview to La Presse, a demonstrator intervenes, shouting. “Don’t talk to the media, they will use this against the people of Israel!” The member launches all the same. According to her, the Supreme Court has weakened the fight against terrorism by curbing the destruction of homes in Palestinian territory and by prohibiting the use by the army of Palestinian civilians to knock on the doors of suspects during anti-terror raids, a practice that the judges equated it with the use of human shields.
A little further on, Mark Landis demonstrates alone, holding his Israeli flag. Originally from Pittsburgh, he is now an Israeli citizen and supports reform.
“The judiciary should judge by the rules in place,” he said. “I support a strong judiciary, which upholds human rights and individual rights. But the judicial system should not make the laws itself. »
Gadi Taub, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and host of the conservative podcast Gatekeepers, is one of the most vocal intellectuals in favor of Benjamin Netanyahu’s project in the public sphere. In an interview with La Presse in a small bookstore in Tel Aviv, he mocks opposition movements that claim to defend democracy.
He deplores that the Supreme Court short-circuited initiatives by elected officials to expel irregular migrants as well as more muscular measures in the management of relations with the Palestinians, whom he goes so far as to describe as “enemy population”.
However, even he now believes that the time has come for compromise, given the crisis that is shaking the country. “I believe we should move on to another plan. We should try to hold the national dialogue as broadly as possible. In the meantime, we can do the things that everyone agrees on,” he suggests.
“There is a very large majority in favor of some form of reform,” he concludes.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin announces a justice reform project, intended to increase the power of elected officials over that of magistrates. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, at the head of one of the most right-wing governments in the country’s history, was then tried for corruption in several cases.
Thousands of Israelis demonstrate in Tel Aviv. Protests will become weekly and draw tens of thousands of people to several cities across the country – including more than 100,000 in Tel Aviv on March 11.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk urges Israel to “suspend the proposed legislative changes”. Israeli President Isaac Herzog, two weeks later, called the reform a “threat to the foundations of democracy” and proposed a compromise to avoid “civil war”.
The Parliament adopts in first reading the provision of derogation, the most disputed clause of the project.
Binyamin Netanyahu announces a “pause” in the process of adopting the reform, postponed to the next parliamentary session.
Emilie Moatti has already brought down Benyamin Netanyahu once. Seriously ill, she was then unable to stand. Now that she is on her feet again, she has taken up the torch of protest. With the hope of a new victory against the Prime Minister and his project of judicial reform.
The former elected, defeated in the November 1 elections, accumulates encouragement and messages of support by walking among anti-reform demonstrators gathered in her hometown of Netanya. The reaction of the public brings tears to his eyes. “I am very touched,” she told La Presse.
His story made an impression. In June 2021, while a Labor MP, Ms Moatti helped end Mr Netanyahu’s 12-year streak in power. She was then suffering from a rare spinal infection, which had confined her to a hospital bed.
During his absence, parliament was split 59 to 59 on whether to install a new ruling coalition. The then 40-year-old elected official was transported to the Knesset on a stretcher to register her vote and break the deadlock. She had voted lying down, before being rushed back to the hospital. His presence had tipped the scales 60 to 59 in favor of the anti-Netanyahu bloc.
Mr. Netanyahu has since returned to power in new elections and Ms. Moatti has lost her seat. It is in the street that she continues the fight.
His hometown of Netanya has always been a prime minister’s stronghold. But today, she sees that the tide is turning.
“This is a city that loved Netanyahu. I grew up here, my childhood friends were bibists [supporters of Bibi, the nickname of the Prime Minister]. But they are here today, ”she says, pointing to the mass of anti-government protesters.
“When I entered the left, I was very criticized here. For people like me, to be welcomed with warmth and love here is something extraordinary. »
Simon Davidson, also a resident of Netanya and a lawmaker for the centrist Yesh Atid party, says the ranks of anti-reform protesters in the region are growing week by week.
“We started the first time with 500 people and now we are over 30,000,” he rejoices.
Around him, the demonstrators are pumped up.
“We are here to protect democracy. We are here to say no to dictatorship, no to the criminal Ben-Gvir,” said David Slama, a young tech executive who helped organize the event.
Few protesters seem satisfied with the temporary suspension of the judicial reform project by the government, which says it is seeking a compromise with the opposition. “We don’t just want a suspension, we want victory,” said Yuli Tamir, a college principal and former education minister in centrist Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government from 2006 to 2009, who also came to protest. .
The reasons given by the government on the need to rebalance the powers between elected officials and judges do not impress him. “The reason they are making these changes is to allow criminals to run the country. If it was a pure intellectual discussion, it would be something else. But it is an aggressive attempt to change the nature of Israel,” she said.
Eran Shendar, former chief prosecutor in Israel, agrees.
“I don’t know of any democratic system where all the power is concentrated in the hands of the government. It would no longer be a democracy, it would be regime change,” he believes.
Several years ago, he himself participated as a prosecutor in the prosecution of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, sentenced to prison for corruption after his departure from politics. But the case of the current trial against Binyamin Netanyahu is very different, according to him.
He denounces “a big, big, big conflict of interest” in which the Prime Minister is immersed, according to him. “Any reform in the police, the judiciary, will have an impact on him,” Mr. Shendar said.
Shlomo Ben-Ami, former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak in the early 2000s, also deplores a veritable “judicial coup”.
“Never has Israel been more divided,” he laments. But the reform bill has created an unprecedented protest movement, which could eventually go on the offensive and attack some of the gains of religious groups that support the current government, he believes.
But not all protesters have such an ambitious agenda. For Keren Duster, a 32-year-old literature student, ending the current divide would already be a satisfying step forward.
“Bringing the different opinions together, sitting together and listening to each other: that would be a victory. We are looking for a way to be able to sit down with someone who does not think like us, in mutual respect, ”she says.
“There is a place for all voices. »
Three years after the end of World War II and the extermination of more than six million Jews by the Nazis, David Ben-Gurion proclaims the State of Israel over part of Palestine. The next day, the Arab armies go to war against the new state. More than 760,000 Palestinians are forced into exodus by advancing Jewish forces or driven from their homes.
Israel launches the so-called “Six Day War” against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, seizing East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Syrian Golan Heights and Egyptian Sinai.
Signing in Washington of the Oslo Accords on Palestinian autonomy, sealed by a historic handshake between the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated in 1995.
From December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009, Israel’s Operation “Cast Lead” to end rocket fire from Gaza: 1,440 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed. In 2012 and 2014, the Israeli army will conduct two more operations “Pillars of Defense” and “Protective Edge”.
Binyamin Netanyahu – Bibi to his supporters – is elected prime minister, after defeating Shimon Peres. Defeated in 1999, he regained the head of the country in 2009 and formed, in 2015, the government considered to be the most right-wing in the country’s history.
Surprising as it may seem, pundits debating Binyamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform often come to cite the example of Canada, whose constitutional system is the subject of intense discussion in Israel today.
The Netanyahu government wants to be able to pass laws without being blocked by the Supreme Court. “Those in favor of creating such a mechanism often cite the case of Canada, whose Bill of Rights provides such an arrangement,” said the independent Israel Democracy Institute.
Canada has a notwithstanding clause, the notorious “notwithstanding clause”, which allows a government to exempt a law from any legal remedy for a period of five years, even if it violates certain rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter. rights and freedoms. Quebec has used it in particular for the Act respecting the secularism of the State and in laws to protect the French language.
But several speakers reject the comparison with the plan of the Israeli government.
“You can’t take a single piece of the Canadian example, the notwithstanding clause, and leave out all the other constitutional aspects,” said Yoaz Hendel, who was communications minister in the previous Israeli government, in an interview with La Press.
Former Israeli chief prosecutor Eran Shendar agrees. “When you cite the system of other countries as an example, you have to take the full picture. In Canada, you have a constitution. Your judges are chosen with the participation of a committee which proposes a list. You also have to look at the political culture and the atmosphere,” he says.
In a recent publication, the Israel Democracy Institute points out the many differences between Canada and Israel that make comparison lame. The Canadian notwithstanding clause allows a law to be exempt from certain sections of the Charter of Rights, but not all. It also does not allow the adoption without judicial review of laws that reorganize the separation of powers or the structure of government, as Benyamin Netanyahu could possibly do if his reform were adopted as proposed, underlines the organization.
In Canada, the federal Parliament has two chambers, and the Senate can temper the ardor of the House of Commons, observes the organization. The federal Parliament also shares its powers with provincial legislation, which dilutes power between different institutions. In Israel, the Knesset has a single chamber and concentrates a great deal of power in its hands.
In addition, Canada formally recognizes that all are equal before the law, while Israel grants preferential status to religion and to the Jewish people in several areas, underlines the organization.