Opposition leaders, including the Arabs, many activists, and thousands of rank and file Israelis, on Saturday night gathered for a rally under the title “Defensive Shield for Democracy” outside the Tel Aviv Museum. Scheduled to speak were MKs Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon from Kachol Lavan, Labor Chairman Avi Gabai, Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg, Hadash-Ta’al Chairman Ayman Odeh, Druze Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal Ass’ad, and religious attorney Sagit Peretz Deri.
Kachol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz said: “Netanyahu will not be allowed to turn the Knesset into a haven for criminals. We won’t grant any politician immunity from criticism and an escape from justice. The struggle for democratic Israel is expanding and taking to the streets.”
The leaders of the opposition parties and the protesters are condemning attempts to promote legislation that would weaken the Supreme Court and the judiciary—legislation which is part of the current coalition government negotiations. The opposition rally is also protesting plans to pass an immunity law to help Prime Minister Netanyahu avoid being brought to trial while serving his term.
Many protesters are wearing Turkish fez hats to suggest that Netanyahu’s Israel is resembling Erdogan’s Turkey.
MK Mickey Zohar (Likud) on Tuesday morning submitted a bill to amend the immunity law, which is expected to ultimately allow Prime Minister Netanyahu—who faces indictments subject to a hearing—to postpone the legal proceedings against him to the end of his term.
Until July 2005, according to the Knesset Members’ Immunity Law of 1951, immunity was automatic and granted even without a request from the MK in question. In fact, removing an immunity required the decision of the House Committee and the plenum’s decision in a secret ballot.
The Override Clause, which would likely be passed by the Netanyahu government ahead of the amendment of the immunity law, would permit the Knesset under a variety of circumstances to pass a law that overrides a Supreme Court annulment of its legislation.
The struggle of the left in Israel’s politics, which, together with the Arab parties holds 55 out of the 120 Knesset seats, against both legislations is part of a 42-year war between the country’s former and emerging power elite. As such, it involves the inevitable political war between the judiciary—the stronghold of the older elite—and the legislator, which reflects the majority of Israelis who identify with the current, right-leaning power elite.
The accusations that tweaking the high court’s power to intervene in the political process means the demise of Israel’s democracy is clearly an exaggeration. The problem is that the two legislative initiatives which had been advocated by the parties to the right of Likud had never been picked up before by Prime Minister Netanyahu – whose lengthy rule was often marked by his own social and ideological ambivalence between left and right. Unfortunately, Netanyahu has only become aware of the country’s dire need for those two measures to balance the power of the courts versus parliament only when the judicial noose has tightened around his own neck.
Indeed, Netanyahu has been learning a lot about being a real right-winger these days, as he’s been pushed against the wall by his Rightwing Union potential coalition partners to honor his campaign promises regarding sovereignty in Israeli settlements. In summation, it’s safe to say the PM is entering a very difficult week, with the coalition-making deadline approaching this Wednesday.