Erdogan among five repressive figures on banner at Tel Aviv protest
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on Saturday in Israel's cities against curbing of judiciary amid a growing political rift between the government and opposition which former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak called "worst crisis since state's formation."
The coalition government's plans to weaken the judiciary have sparked mass protests and warnings of the potential for extensive economic and social harm from top public figures including jurists, economists, business leaders, high-tech entrepreneurs and reservists from military units, The Times of Israel said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before the Saturday protests: "They are intending to create anarchy in the State of Israel and to harm its economy in order to bring a sixth election."
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said the events "show that this is a protest of anarchists," accused the demonstrators of an "illegal rampage" and said he expected police to show "zero tolerance."
While 130,000-160,000 people gathered for the main rally in central Tel Aviv, some 30,000 participated in the demonstration in Haifa, and tens of thousands more in other cities including Jerusalem, Herzliya and Beersheba.
From a Start-up Nation to a Shut-down nation: Israeli protesters take their protest against Netanyahu's judicial coup a notch up, placing him among the likes of Khomeini, Erdogan, Putin, and Orban. This marks eight weeks of massive protests in the streets. pic.twitter.com/DLhlW4glMT— Louis Fishman لوي فيشمان לואי פישמן (@Istanbultelaviv) February 25, 2023
In Tel Aviv, groups carried a banner reading "From startup nation to shutdown nation," with faces of Netanyahu, Iran's former supreme leader Khomeini, Turkish president Erdogan, Russian president Putin, and Hungarian prime minister Orban printed on it.
Tel Aviv protesters carried homemade placards, bearing messages as "No Constitution, No Democracy," "They Shall Not Pass" and "We Shall Override."
The new legislation pushed by the ruling bloc of parties through the Israeli parliament Knesset in recent weeks include the government granting itself total control over the appointment of judges to the High Court, and all but eliminating the court's ability to review and strike down legislation.
"Worst crisis since the state's formation"
Israel's former prime minister Ehud Barak called the judicial overhaul plan "an assassination of the Declaration of Independence, which will turn Israel into a dictatorship," and described the current internal upheaval as "the worst crisis since the formation of the state."
"If these dictatorship laws come to fruition, we will have to walk the path of nonviolent civil disobedience," Barak said.
Former police commissioner Roni Alsheich said at the Tel Aviv rally that he was sure police "will refuse to carry out any illegal action," apparently implying if the High Court were to strike down the new legislation, police would side with judges and not the government.
Alsheich called demonstrators "patriots who are devoted to the state, far more than many elected officials."
The next day of nationwide protests is planned for Wednesday, which protest organizers say will be "a day of struggle" around the country.