As celebrations marking Israel’s 75th Independence Day wound down, the pressing topic of Israel’s national character was brought to the fore. The protests in recent months against the government’s attempts at judicial reform have split the country more than usual. Although the demonstrators’ cry has been that the reforms are a threat to democracy in Israel, the religious right see these demonstrations as an attempt to undermine the strong right-wing religious government; a personal attack on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whom the left have long sought to bring down; and as a refusal to remove the absolute power of Israel’s predominantly Left-wing secular Supreme Court, which does not represent the opinion of the majority of the country.
In answer to these ongoing protests, Tekuma, an organization representing Israel’s religious right, organized a demonstration last Thursday, the day after Israel Independence Day, in front of the Knesset. It was called “March of a Million,” with the slogan, “They will not steal our elections!”
Those of the obdurate left have never been gracious losers. But the Supreme Court’s ultimate power stands in the way of Israel’s security; they protect the “rights” of terrorists and sabotage the IDF’s efforts to protect Israel from the enemy. Their monopoly obscures the very motto of the existence of the state of Israel to be a free Jewish nation in the land of Israel. The ultimate authority of the Supreme Court prevents the Knesset from acting in the best interests of its constituents and the IDF from being able to freely protect its citizens, pardoning terrorists or preventing the government from punishing them.
In preparation for the demonstration, thousands of buses were ordered to transport people from around the country to Jerusalem, tens of thousands of people registered, hundreds volunteered to take part in the public relations campaign, while thousands more donated to the fundraising campaign online.
The organizers of the rally, MK Avichai Bovaron (Likud) and Berla Crombie, who heads the Takuma 2023 initiative to support reform, in collaboration with several right-wing organizations, began preparations for the huge demonstration that took place on the eve of the opening of the Knesset’s summer session under the demand from the government and the coalition to pass the legal reform law in the coming session.
During the ceremonies preceding the protest, on Holocaust Memorial Day and Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers, speakers including army Chief of General Staff Herzl “Herzi” Halevi, President Yitzchak Herzog, and the chief rabbis, called on us to remember the need to remain united as one nation.
One thousand buses, filled to capacity, streamed into Jerusalem. The police estimate 200,000 people demonstrated. One source quoted 600,000 – although how they could count is a mystery, with people streaming into the capital from the early afternoon hours on from all over the country.
As hashgacha pratit would have it, I was sitting on the bus into Jerusalem next to Rabbi Dr. Chaim Shine – former professor of Law at Bar-Ilan University, Shaarei Mishpat Academic Center in Hod Hasharon and Netanya College, a writer, and former head of the Aliyah delegation of the Jewish Agency in America and Canada. A proponent of the reform, he was one of the professors who took part in the Professors’ March toward the demonstration at the Chords Bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem. The march was led by Nobel Laureate Professor Yisrael (Robert) Aumann, who also spoke at the rally.
Shine said that the demonstration would give support to Netanyahu and the Knesset, which would enable the process of reform to continue.
“It’s not democracy that’s worrying the opponents of the judicial reform,” said Shine, “it’s demography” – the fact that the religious right is gaining in numbers and strength. He points out that those who are against the reform supported an even more extreme reform bill two years ago.
At the demonstration, MK Bezalel Smotrich said, “The people are demanding reform, and they will get reform.” Justice Minister Yariv Levin said, “Show me one democracy where legal advisers make decisions instead of the government…” And added, “We need a court that protects our soldiers.”
On Twitter, Rothman posted in Hebrew: “The nation of Israel lives! Thanks for coming. The people are sovereign, and the people demand judicial reform.” He concluded by quoting Isaiah 1:27, “Zion will be redeemed through justice.”
Itamar Ben Gvir, Minister of National Security, added “We must not surrender.”
It looked like the second day of Yom HaAtzmaut as families walked through the streets of Jerusalem carrying large Israeli flags, pausing only to pray Ma’ariv at the many spontaneous minyanim or to buy bottles of water, chanting “Israel demands democracy!” The demonstration spread for miles around the Knesset and the Supreme Court.
As Dr. Shine predicted, Bibi was indeed touched by the support, tweeting, “I thank the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who came to Jerusalem tonight to support our government. Your passion and patriotism moves me deeply.”
As I was waiting at Jerusalem’s Central Bus station for the bus back home, Shoshana Nachshon, an 80-year-old great-grandmother from Hod Hasharon, sat beside me. Nachshon made aliyah from Yemen with her family in 1944, when she was a year old.
“I felt I had to come,” she told me. “It was amazing,” she said of the demonstration. She described the young people as “mighty rivers” flowing toward the demonstration. “The passion was real. We want a Jewish State!” Then in true Israeli fashion, she showed me the bargain she got buying pots on the way to the bus station. “The shopkeeper even made me a cup of tea,” she smiled, holding it up.
Am Yisrael chai!