live updates turmoil engulfs israel over plan to overhaul top court

March 27, 2023, 5:41 a.m. ET

March 27, 2023, 5:41 a.m. ET

Reporting from Jerusalem
A rally in Jerusalem on Monday opposing the judicial overhaul.Ariel Schalit/Associated Press

Some protesters spent the night sleeping on the road outside the Parliament in Jerusalem. Others got up at home on Monday morning and set off to block main roads or junctions up and down Israel. The country’s universities announced a nationwide stoppage, suspending all teaching until further notice. Municipal workers prepared to go on strike.

After a stormy and chaotic night of protest against efforts by the government to assert greater control over the Supreme Court, another mass demonstration was planned for 2 p.m. outside Parliament. The potential for friction, and even violence, appeared to rise with calls on Monday by supporters of the legislative overhaul to come out and defend the plan.

Israelis from all walks of life have taken to the streets over the past 12 weeks, participating in mass protests as well as more focused acts of dissent, like picketing the homes of coalition ministers and lawmakers, in what is likely the most sweeping popular protest Israel has known in the 75 years since its foundation.

“The country will be paralyzed until the complete shelving of all the dictatorial legislation,” the informal leadership of the protest, known as “the struggle HQ,” said in a statement on Monday. “We are not ready for any compromise that will harm the independence of the Supreme Court and the primacy of the law,” it added.

Shikma Bressler, a protest leader who was briefly arrested at a demonstration last week, said in a video statement: “I was up all night. The citizens of Israel have spoken. We will not allow anyone to take away our freedom, to take away our democracy.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown that “his decision-making is not to the benefit of Israel’s security,” Ms. Bressler said of Mr. Netanyahu’s announcement on Sunday night that he was firing his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, who had called for a delay of the overhaul effort, citing security concerns and growing anger within the military ranks.

“We will never give up,” Ms. Bressler said. “The judicial overhaul has to be eliminated completely.”

Prof. Asher Cohen, president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said it was the first time he could think of that all the universities in the country had come together and announced a unanimous stoppage.

“Everything here is unprecedented,” Professor Cohen said in a phone interview from his campus.

Students have been a visible presence at most of the demonstrations in more central locations, and the heads of the universities met Sunday night to decide on steps to take.

“We decided enough is enough,” Professor Cohen said, explaining the open-ended stoppage. “We call on the government to stop the legislation. That is our main message. To stop the legislation and to engage in dialogue. You can only change the rules of the game with a broad consensus, and this legislation is endangering democracy.”

Simcha Rothman, a coalition lawmaker who is chairman of the parliamentary committee that has been advancing the legislation, posted an urgent call for right-wing supporters to come to a counterdemonstration outside Parliament on Monday evening.

He wrote on Twitter, “They will not steal the election! The people demand a radical overhaul of the justice system.” He added: “We must not accept a reality in which there are people whose vote does not count. Go out and return the voice to the people.”

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