According to local media, a good quarter of a million people in Israel have protested against the controversial judicial reform of the right-wing religious government.
In central Tel Aviv, demonstrators rallied for the 11th consecutive Saturday night with Israeli flags and protest signs. It read: "No to the dictatorship" or "Israel is not yet Iran". There were also protests in cities like Jerusalem and Beersheba.
"Extreme increase in violence"
This led to arrests and violent attacks by supporters of the reform on demonstrators. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the protests that "anarchy will not be tolerated". Nor will violence be allowed. Opposition leader Jair Lapid wrote on Twitter that he condemned the "extreme increase in violence". You will not silence the demonstrators.
One of the organizers of the protests, Eran Schwartz, warned of bloodshed in a radio interview. He accused government representatives of using targeted incitement to promote violence against demonstrators. Netanyahu's son Jair compared the participants in the protests to brown shirts.
Protests for more than two months
Speaking to Israel's Kan broadcaster, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned: "Unfortunately, we're sliding more and more towards a civil war. We see the violence on the streets and it can continue to escalate." Netanyahu doesn't see "our people falling apart before our eyes".
For more than two months there have been massive protests against the government's comprehensive legislative project. In the future, Parliament should be able to overrule decisions of the Supreme Court with a simple majority. Politicians should be given significantly more influence in the appointment of judges. Critics see the separation of powers in danger and warn of a dangerous state crisis. The coalition wants to push through core elements of the reform by the end of the month.
Netanyahu immediately rejected a compromise proposal presented by Israeli President Izchak Herzog on Wednesday. It is unbalanced and only cements the current state. The opposition backed the proposal. "It's not perfect, but it's a fair compromise that allows us to live here together," said Lapid. In a civil war there are only losers. Herzog emphasized that the proposal was intended as a basis for talks.
Protest movement one of the largest in Israel's history
According to media reports, the coalition could push through a somewhat "weakened version" of the reform without a compromise. The first critical voices can also be heard within the government. MP David Bitan from Netanyahu's Likud party called for a halt to the reform on the radio. It is within Netanyahu's power to do so.
The protest movement is one of the largest in the history of Israel, a country of around 9.4 million people, and it spans broad sections of society. Former domestic intelligence chief Nadav Argaman spoke out against the reform. He no longer trusts Netanyahu, he said on television. The head of government has lost all inhibitions, "he is racing towards the abyss". The former head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, Zeev Snir, warned in a letter to Netanyahu that the reform would endanger Israel's existence. It harms Israel's ability to confront arch-enemy Iran, he wrote to Netanyahu, who self-appointed him in 2015.
There is also increasing resistance from the army. Hundreds of elite military reserve officers failed to show up for duty on Sunday. "We will be happy to come back if democracy is guaranteed," one of them told Israeli radio. He spoke of an attempted coup by the government. "We call for no more reserve duty in a dictatorship."