Pro-government Israelis rally before crucial High Court hearing

About 10,000 demonstrators descended on the Knesset on Thursday night

Crucial hearings will soon take place on the legality of the government's plans to reform Israel's judicial system. Reuters
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As protests over Israel’s hugely divisive judicial reforms go, the one on Thursday evening in the political district of Jerusalem was a quiet affair.

An estimated 10,000 supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, gathered around the Knesset, the country’s parliament.

Its surrounding streets are a popular battlefield in the fight between supporters of the reform, who think Israel’s judiciary is too powerful and blocks democracy, and opponents who say the plans will end democracy altogether.

Ten thousand turning out in support of the government might sound like a lot, but throughout the course of 2023, protests for and against the coalition’s plans have raised far higher numbers, such is the depth of feeling about the radical agenda.

The energy at Thursday’s protest was not remotely comparable to the most clamorous highs of recent months.

Police barriers had been put up far before the crowd started to thicken, in anticipation of numbers seen not that many weeks ago.

Little seemed to be done to stop a few demonstrators flying the black and yellow flag of the illegal Jewish-supremacist Kach movement.

The noise of pro-reform speakers blaring out through megaphones was far louder than any cheering.

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich received one of the loudest reactions of the night.

He made veiled remarks directed at Chief Justice Esther Hayut, who has long been at loggerheads with the government and a lightning rod for pro-reform anger.

“Do not dare invalidate Basic Laws,” Mr Smotrich warned. “The responsibility is on you.”

His comments relate to a crucial hearing at the High Court of Justice, in which the institution could strike down aspects of the government’s reform package.

Uri, who came to the protest with friends, shared Mr Smotrich’s concern.

“Some people in the government are already talking about delaying and minimising the reform because the opposition is refusing to play by democratic rules,” he said.

“They are using the army, the police, government officials – anybody they can find to bury the reform.”

Refusing to play by the democratic rules is a charge as easily levelled by anti-government protesters against people such as Uri. But he is unfazed.

“We on the right are the majority,” Uri said. “The others just have the monopolies and the Supreme Court on their side.”

At this crucial moment the right is indeed the strong majority in Parliament.

And the crowd in attendance on Thursday, while not huge in number, was extremely diverse, in a sign of the sheer energy behind conservative, even far-right politics in Israel.

Demonstrators such as Uri, who was in secular dress, mingled with other working professionals, young settler families and ultra-Orthodox students.

They are likely to be back rubbing shoulders by the Knesset some time very soon, and in far greater numbers.

Updated: September 07, 2023, 10:23 PM