Several tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated on Saturday evening in Tel Aviv to proclaim their rejection of the policy of the ruling coalition around Benjamin Netanyahu, of which they fear an anti-democratic drift.
It is the largest demonstration since the December 29 swearing-in of the government combining right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, the most right-wing in the country's history by just over of 9 million inhabitants.
Around 9 p.m. (8 p.m., in Paris), Habima Square in central Tel Aviv was full and the crowd overflowed into the adjacent streets, according to AFP journalists on the spot.
In the absence of official estimates, several media reported that 80,000 demonstrators had gathered there, citing "police sources".
Several media reported that 80,000 demonstrators had gathered in Tel Aviv.
REUTERS/ Ilan Rosenberg
Smaller rallies were held simultaneously in Jerusalem, where around 1,000 protesters gathered outside the residence of Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Benjamin Netanyahu according to local media, and Haifa, the major city in the north of the country.
The demonstrators were responding to the call of an anti-corruption organization, around slogans calling for "saving democracy" and preventing "the overthrow of the political regime" in force in Israel since its creation in 1948. Parties, center, left and the alliance of Arab parties Hadash-Taal called on Israelis to demonstrate in particular against the justice reform presented on January 4 by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, prosecuted in several cases of alleged corruption.
They also demand the resignation of the head of government because of these affairs.
To this are added other dissatisfied people: opponents of Israeli colonization in the West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory, or LGBTQ defense movements worried about the presence in government of openly homophobic ministers.
With the family, under a sea of umbrellas
On Habima Square, the atmosphere was good-natured.
Many Israelis had come with their families despite the rain and the demonstrators chanted their slogans under a sea of umbrellas.
Several political figures, including Labor Party leader Meirav Michaeli, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were present.
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new right-wing coalition and its proposed judicial reforms to reduce powers of the Supreme Court in a main square in Tel Aviv, Israel January 14, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
"The situation is worrying and frightening," said Aya Tal, 22, who works in high-tech.
“They want to take away our rights.
It scares me to tell myself that we let things happen in silence (…) we must unite, ”she added.
The signs held up by the demonstrators reflected the diversity of demands: "The time has come to bring down the dictator", "Government of shame", "There is no democracy with the occupation", "Bibi doesn't want democracy, we don't need fascists in the Knesset”, “You shall love the other as yourself” written in Hebrew and Arabic.
But it was the slogan “Democracy, democracy” that came up most often.
The public “will not accept (…) the destruction of the values that are the basis of our system,” said former Supreme Court judge Ayala Procaccia, speaking on the podium.
“We are at a fateful moment for the moral future of Israel,” she added.
In the absence of an official written constitution, the judiciary in Israel is the only one capable of controlling the government and safeguarding individual rights.
Critics of the judicial reform believe it would grant unlimited control to the prime minister, endangering Israeli democracy as it has existed since 1948. They say they fear a drift towards illiberal democracy.
From July 2020 to June 2021, the Black Flag Movement had supported a long-running protest campaign against Benjamin Netanyahu to demand his resignation because of the corruption scandals in which he is involved.
Leader of Likud, the great party of the Israeli right, and holder of the record for longevity at the head of the Israeli government, Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from power in 2021 by a motley electoral coalition that lasted less than a year.
At the end of December, he took the helm of a new government following the legislative elections in November, the fifth in four years, the results of which bear witness to the fragmentation of the electorate and the internal divisions of society.