Former PM joins mass rally against Netanyahu govt

An Israeli protester carries a placard and a torch during a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new hard-right government in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on 21 January, 2023

Former Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid joined tens of thousands of protesters in Tel Aviv Saturday, as frustration mounts over a raft of controversial moves by the new administration.

“People who love the state came to defend its democracy, its courts, the idea of a common life and a common good,” Lapid tweeted, vowing to “not give up until we win.”

Saturday’s demonstration was the largest so far since Lapid’s successor Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power last month at the head of the most right-wing government in the country’s history.

Some 100,000 protesters turned out in central Tel Aviv, according to Israeli media estimates, filling the streets with blue and white national flags. Police did not immediately give a figure for the crowds.

People who love the state came to defend its democracy, its courts, the idea of a common life and a common good
Yair Lapid, Former Israeli prime minister

Karen Kol, from Hod Hasharon in central Israel, said she was demonstrating “against the anti-democratic government that we have.”

The 51-year-old cited changes proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin earlier this month that would grant politicians more power in appointing judges.

Levin also foresees lawmakers being able to override decisions by the Supreme Court, which currently has the authority to repeal legislation it considers discriminatory.

Dov Gidony, from the suburb of Givatayim, said he does not want to “let our politicians have complete control over our lives”.

Feeling the country had reached “a point in history... without return,” the 33-year-old programmer said it was the first time he had taken part in a protest.

The government’s conservative social agenda has also raised fears among the LGBTQ community.

Ori Segelis, a 16-year-old lesbian, said the new Israeli government will “affect me badly”.

“I don’t think it will be good for anybody and especially the gays,” said the teenager, from the nearby city of Rehovot, carrying a rainbow flag beside her father.

Israeli protesters carry placards depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Julius Caesar during a demonstration against his new hard-right government in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on 21 January, 2023

The Tel Aviv demonstration also drew opponents to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, as many government ministers are ardent supporters of settlement expansion across the West Bank.

‘Unbridled attack’

Saturday’s mass rally follows nationwide protests by stiudents and a demonstration by hundreds of lawyers outside a Tel Aviv court.

The judicial revamp has been met with rare public criticism from Supreme Court president Esther Hayut, who branded it an “unbridled attack” earlier this month.

The already tense relations between the government and the judiciary were dealt a further blow this week, when Israel’s highest court ruled a top minister must step down due to a recent tax evasion conviction.

Aryeh Deri’s appointment as health and interior minister was deemed “extremely unreasonable” by the Supreme Court, coming only months after he was fined and relinquished his parliamentary seat.

Yair Lapid joins the protest

Netanyahu slammed the court’s decision but is yet to announce any concrete steps.

The premier’s own legal woes, meanwhile, continue at a Jerusalem courthouse where he is fighting corruption charges.

Netanyahu refused to step down in 2019 when he became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office.

He lost the premiership following elections in 2021, only to return to power after November polls with the backing of extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies.