Thousands gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Saturday night, April 25, for the latest “Black Flag” demonstration to protest the erosion of Israeli democracy under far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership. Speakers detailed for the audience how the new coalition deal threatens to trample Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws and destroys the authority of the Knesset. At the same hour, several hundred participated in demonstrations in Jerusalem’s Paris Square near Netanyahu’s official residence and in Kiryat Tivon, a suburb east of Haifa.
The protesters were careful to adhere to Ministry of Health’s social distancing guidelines of maintaining a distance of two meters between one another, aimed at stemming the coronavirus outbreak and, because of their numbers, they overflowed the perimeter of Rabin Square and blocked several main streets. The “Black Flag” movement’s name comes from demonstrators’ attaching black flags to their vehicles and homes to symbolize the danger to Israel’s democracy posed by Netanyahu’s continued rule.
“A coalition agreement that violates the Basic Laws of the State of Israel is not ‘unity,’” said Shikma Schwartzan, one of the demonstration’s organizers. She explained that in order to achieve unity, “You had to build a wall between the judicial system and a criminal defendant,” referring to Netanyahu’s indictments and upcoming trial for three counts of corruption. Calling on the Blue & White leader Benny Gantz to act, she warned him not to “raise a hand against the justice system, and make sure there is one law for everyone.”
This demonstration is the latest of several that the Black Flag movement has held in the past month, which have the stated goal of preserving Israel’s democracy by ensuring the ousting of “crime minister” Netanyahu.
Critics have accused Gantz of failing to protect the justice system and allowing Netanyahu too much control over it as part of the coalition deal signed last week. Under the agreement, Netanyahu has veto power over appointments to the state prosecution hierarchy, and all other senior public appointments, for at least the first six months of the new coalition.
Furthermore, adding to the concern of the demonstration’s organizers, the Likud has ensured a right-wing majority on the Judicial Appointments Committee, which nominate judges, because the newly declared faction named “Derech Eretz” consisting solely of MK Zvi Hauser — who ran with Blue & White but who split with it after the March 4 general election, is a right-wing conservative and was formerly a cabinet secretary under Netanyahu. Under Netanyahu-Gantz deal, also signed by Labor leader MK Amir Peretz, the Knesset essentially loses the power to unseat a prime minister, loses its power over the budget because it can no longer postpone its implementation and, for the first six months of the new government at least, effectively loses even the power of legislation itself, since no laws can be passed unless both Netanyahu and Gantz agree on them.
The former Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein on Thursday, April 23, called the coalition agreement “shocking to a jurist, because it contains so many legal monstrosities. Someone who respects the concept of Basic Laws, who sees in them a constitutional, cannot possibly like this. The Basic Laws are being trampled as if they were a sewage bylaw of the Raanana municipality.”