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In Israel, a doctors’ strike and six lawsuits seek to stop the law that weakens the country’s Supreme Court

Five Israeli newspapers ran frontpages in black, an advertisement paid for by the high-tech sector following the passage of the controversial reform

Israel Netanyahu
A demonstration against judicial reform early Tuesday morning in Tel Aviv.CORINNA KERN (REUTERS)
Antonio Pita

This Tuesday, opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s judicial reform are trying to regain the initiative by taking action on different fronts, after parliament passed the first law weakening the Supreme Court on Monday. Throughout the country (except Jerusalem), doctors initiated a 24-hour strike called by their union, even though the government tried to stop it by filling an injunction with the labor court, which by midday Tuesday annulled the strike. In addition, the high-tech sector, which has been very active in the protests that began in January, paid for frontpage ads of black space in five printed newspapers. And six lawsuits have already been filed with the Supreme Court to review the controversial new measure, which strips the Court of its ability to strike down decisions by the government, ministers and elected officials that it deems unreasonable.

Hospitals are operating in Shabbat mode, that is, at a minimum. Emergency services have not been affected, but the healthcare centers that serve the vast majority of Israelis have been shut down.

At Minister of Health Moshe Arbel’s request, Ministry staff drafted and filed an injunction with the courts to annul the strike. According to Israeli public radio, the text states that this strike is not “legitimate means” of protest “but an end in itself”; thus, “it is necessary to examine the issue of good faith.” The strike’s organizers argue that stripping the court of its authority to determine the reasonability of government decisions — as the measure passed by the Knesset on Monday does — may affect them, for example, in their appointment to different positions.

In addition, five major Israeli newspapers have hit the newsstands with black frontpages that have a single, small message in white letters that reads “A black day for Israeli democracy” and this Tuesday’s date. The reverse page reads, “Israel’s locomotive will never give up,” a reference to the high-tech sector, which financed the ads in the three most widely circulated general dailies (Yediot Aharonot, Israel Hayom and Haaretz) and two financial dailies (Calcalist and The Marker). They call the tech industry the locomotive because it accounts for over 10% of the country’s employment and 15% of Israel’s GDP. Industry businesspeople and workers are among those spearheading the protests, both because of their social background and place of residence and because they depend on the fact that the outside world continues to see the country as a democracy with an open economy and legal security.

A legal battle

This battle is also being waged in the legal arena. The Supreme Court has received six petitions to review the law, including one from the head of the opposition, Yair Lapid, and another from the bar association. The court’s president, Esther Hayut, and other judges have been forced to cut short their official visit to Germany, which they began on Sunday, to return to Israel and examine the cases. The Supreme Court’s ability to strike down a rule that affects it is a paradox over which experts are divided.

The law the Supreme Court will review was passed on Monday with 64 votes for it by the entire coalition that Netanyahu’s Likud party has formed with the ultra-Orthodox and ultra-nationalists. There were zero votes against it, because the other 56 deputies left the session amid cries of “Shame!” The law strips the Supreme Court of one of the legal functions it previously had, though the country lacks a formal constitution (it is guided by a series of basic laws that have developed over the years), and the Parliament elects the Prime Minister. The Court has been in the crosshairs of the right wing, particularly the far right, for years.

Before, during and after the passage of the law, there have been protests in different Israeli cities, mainly Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, although they were not massive in scale. Thirty-two demonstrators and 12 police officers were injured in them, none seriously. Three protestors were hurt in an intentional hit-and-run incident, the perpetrator of which remains under arrest.

An aerial view shows protesters during a demonstration following a parliament vote on a contested bill that limits Supreme Court powers to void some government decisions, in Jerusalem July 24, 202
Demonstration in Jerusalem, after the parliamentary vote, this Monday.ILAN ROSENBERG (REUTERS)

In addition, dozens of artists said in a statement that they hung eight-meter-high banners with clenched fists and anti-reform messages early this morning on the side of Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway, which younger protestors have cut off every Saturday since the protests began 30 weeks ago.

Late Monday, as thousands protested in the streets, Netanyahu addressed the nation to defend the new law as “necessary for restoring the balance of power,” so that the Prime Minister can “lead [with] policies in accordance with the will of the majority of the state’s citizens. It is not ‘the end of democracy’; it is the essence of democracy,” he emphasized.

Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party and Netanyahu’s predecessor as prime minister, accused him of having “become a puppet of messianic extremists.” But he also called on the thousands of reservists who have threatened to stop serving to give the Supreme Court time to examine the lawsuits.

Another political leader from the opposition, Benny Gantz, who was minister of defense under Netanyahu and once served as General Chief of Staff, tried to raise morale with a military metaphor: “I am a man who knows battle, and today I say to you, we may have lost the battle, but we will win the war.”

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