Understanding Israel’s civilian unrest and mass protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Mar 27, 2023 at 12:37 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

On 26 March 2023, tens of thousands of citizens poured into the streets of Israel, demanding action be taken after controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defence minister Yoav Gallant. While most internal government sackings don’t usually result in such a fiery societal response, Gallant’s dismissal is particularly significant as it came after the minister spoke out against Netanyahu’s highly divisive plans to overhaul the nation’s justice system.

From Netanyahu’s political legacy to the controversial proposed judicial reforms, here’s everything you need to know about the mass civilian unrest currently taking place in Israel.

What are Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans for Israel’s justice system?

According to the BBC, Netanyahu’s reforms are geared directly towards tightening his grip on Israel’s judicial capabilities. The new law will give the government decisive control over the committee which appoints judges, and would also make it harder for courts to remove a leader deemed unfit for office. While, on the surface, these reforms are immediately frightening, they become that bit more concerning when one considers the political reputation and legacy of Netanyahu.

First elected in 1996, the politician has served as premier of Israel for six terms, spanning across a time period of 29 years, with only a nine year gap from 2000 to 2009. Netanyahu has led some of the most far-right governments in Europe and as he moved into his most recent term—which began in November 2023—political publications made it known that he had brought in the most religious and hardline parties in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu’s recent meeting with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was also met with serious upset and suspicion. Massive demonstrations were held outside and around Downing Street as citizens protested the Israeli leader’s visit. An opinion piece published in The Guardian detailed the ways in which Netanyahu’s meeting with Sunak was not only inherently offensive to British Palestinians, but has also made the UK to appear weak in regard to human rights violations.

On top of this, Netanyahu is also currently facing an ongoing corruption trial in Israel. The politician is accused of fraud and breach of trust, as reported by Sky News. What’s evident is that he is facing a serious political upheaval at home and away—one that’s been built upon over two decades of unlawfulness and self-serving policies.

How have the mass protests in Israel unfolded and what might happen next?

Since the protests began on Sunday, police have deployed water canons and force against those who’ve taken to the streets, an immediate general strike has been called for by the head of Israel’s largest trade union group, departures from Tel Aviv’s main airport have been suspended, the nation’s two primary sea ports have stopped working and international bodies are beginning to denounce the disruption—calling upon the Israeli government to find a solution and stop the chaos.

The US government has released a statement urging Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible, while Israeli President Isaac Herzog tweeted: “For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately.”

Regardless of this, it’s unclear as to whether Netanyahu would consider dismissing the reform plans, particularly as it appears he’d face serious backlash from a number of his far-right ministers and party members.

In an interview with the BBC, Professor Yuval Shany, senior research fellow from the Israel Democracy Institute, explained how the current situation is now simply about “political survival” for Netanyahu. “He has really no choice politically but to stop, or at least pause, the legislation,” Shany concluded.

Protestors have also begun to gather outside of the Prime Minister’s home, urging him to make a statement regarding the justice reforms, however the leader has not yet made any official comments. Although it should be important to note that, whatever his statement might be, political protests and societal unrest will certainly continue to spread.

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