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Israel: right-wing issues call to arms as anti-government protests spread

March 27, 2023 at 1:40 pm

An aerial view of the streets as Israelis continue protests against the Israeli government’s plan to introduce judicial changes, seen by the opposition as an attempt to reduce the powers of the judicial authority in favor of the executive authority as part of the ‘Day of Resistance’ in Tel Aviv, Israel on March 25, 2023. [Gitai Palti – Anadolu Agency]

Israeli police have warned of the threat of violent clashes between protestors demonstrating against the judicial overhaul and supporters of the far-right government. Senior police sources told Haaretz that they fear “immediate escalation” after extreme right-wing activists announced that they will protest today at the Israeli Knesset (parliament). Far-right football fans called La Familia, known for their extremist right-wing views, are expected to take to the streets after supporters were called upon to join the pro-government demonstration.

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Right-wing WhatsApp groups and social media are said to be buzzing with calls from activists to demonstrate across Israel in defence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with some activists calling on supporters to take up arms, tractors, guns and knives, and attack anti-government protesters. Pro-democracy protest leaders have asked the police for protection from far-right activists, reported Haaretz. In response, the police have said that they will send additional forces to secure the protests, as the Shin Bet internal security agency has expressed its “significant fears” of far-right attacks.

The threat of pro-government supporters inflaming the volatile situation comes as thousands of Israelis assembled in front of the Knesset in occupied Jerusalem. All streets surrounding the parliament building have been blocked and thousands more are

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Protests have spread to other parts of the country and across Israeli society. Thousands of protesters gathered in front of Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva today. Hundreds are protesting in the central Israeli city of Ra’anana. The Israeli Nurses Union joined this morning’s nationwide strike called by the General Organisation of Workers in protest at the government’s ongoing judicial coup, as did staff at McDonalds. All branches of the franchise will close at noon today.

Netanyahu is expected to deliver a speech today with an update on the judicial review. The Likud leader fired Defence Minister Yoav Gallant at the weekend triggering a further protest backlash. Discussions in Netanyahu’s office on the future of the legislation connected to the judicial overhaul reportedly continued until five in the morning.

The Israeli prime minister appears to be running out of options. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir told Netanyahu that if the overhaul legislation is stopped, he will resign from his position in the government, but will continue to support the coalition from the outside.

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Meanwhile, in the US, Democrat lawmakers are urging President Joe Biden to adopt a harsher stance towards Israel. Senator Chris Van Hollen reportedly warned Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the Biden administration appeared “weak” due to its failure to hold Israel accountable for provocative steps and policies. The Maryland Democrat challenged the administration publicly to consider what steps it was actually prepared to take beyond rhetoric.

“I’m pleased to see you support, endorse the statement by the State Department spokesperson, but it seems to me that we look very weak when we continually make statements without any kind of consequence,” Hollen is reported as saying. “So, I guess my final question to you is: what are we prepared to do – what is the Biden Administration prepared to do – if you see continued violations by either side of this agreement?”