The Hundred Days War: Chronicles of a government in chaos and a nation at the brink

Sworn in on December 29, 2022, Israel’s 37th government is marking its 100th day in office. But this particular government, the sixth led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is yet to enjoy a moment’s grace.

In democracies around the globe, governments are often granted a 100-day grace period during which voters, critics, rivals and others tend to display tolerance and patience as it finds its feet. But this norm doesn’t generally hold true for deeply divided nations, and certainly not this one.

In June 2021, when Naftali Bennett was sworn in as prime minister, he was not granted the privilege of a 100-day grace period. Netanyahu loyalists shouted him down in the Knesset plenum and embittered his life at every turn — from the first 100 days all the way through to his political demise.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, was seen as someone who did not need a 100-day grace period; he had been in power for most of the past 15 years. He has new ministers, but any grace period they may have enjoyed evaporated during the formation of the government as Netanyahu struggled to nail down his coalition, despite projecting immense self-assuredness.

Immediately after the government’s swearing-in, the country entered into a state of upheaval the likes of which have not been seen for decades.

The self-proclaimed “full-fledged” right-wing government claimed it would stand as a pillar of stability, with a unified voice and shared goals; instead, those voices and goals are fracturing the nation.

A group photo of the 37th Government of Israel, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 29, 2022 (Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office)

The Temple Mount and a bid to change how Israel is governed

A few days after the government was sworn in, on January 3, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the Temple Mount, despite repeated warnings not to do so. The brief, unannounced visit was held early in the morning. Ben Gvir wanted his picture taken on the holy site — for him a victory over naysayers’ predictions of widespread rioting and diplomatic implications — but he did not linger.

No riots took place, though the visit triggered a wave of angry condemnation from across the Arab world. The United Arab Emirates, for example, rescinded its invitation for Netanyahu to visit. He has yet to receive another invite to the Gulf country.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023. (Courtesy Minhelet Har Habayit)

On January 4, Justice Minister Yariv Levin called a press conference and announced his plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Levin framed his plan as an overdue “reform” meant to bolster democracy and explained that in its first phase, the government would focus on five areas to “repair” the judicial system: changing the makeup of the panel that appoints judges; restricting the ability of the court to nullify legislation; instituting an override clause, in case the court does nullify legislation; allowing ministers to appoint their own legal advisers; and canceling the “reasonableness” test used to gauge government decisions.

Hours before Levin’s press conference, Attorney General Baharav-Miara had published an opinion calling the appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as health and interior minister “unreasonable in the extreme,” due to his prior criminal convictions, most recently for tax fraud in 2022.

On January 5, the High Court held a hearing on Deri’s status. The subtext was clear: Justices were telegraphing opposition to the changes to the judiciary and showing that they would not be cowed by Levin’s announcement, which appeared timed to head off their decision.

Taking to the streets

On Saturday, January 7, organizers hastily pulled together the first major protest against the overhaul. Approximately 30,000 people turned out to demonstrate at Habima Square in Tel Aviv. The crowd was varied and some held Palestinian flags.

Israelis attend a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, on January 7, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

In response, Ben Gvir announced he would instruct police to forbid emblems supporting terror being displayed in public, which he said included the Palestinian flag. Security forces began pursuing demonstrators with flags.

On January 9, it was United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni’s turn to cause a commotion. He angered hundreds of city and town mayors who had said they would not use finance the Haredi education system from their coffers (arguing that the national budget should fund it). Gafni, in a vague threat, vowed to “get even” with the group. On the same day, Netanyahu referred to protests against Levin’s overhaul plans as “rampant incitement” against his government.

The following day, January 10, Otzma Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel accused Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and National Unity party head Benny Gantz of treason and called for their arrest. Netanyahu condemned Fogel’s comments a few hours later, not without first criticizing the opposition.

On January 12, after another morning of countrywide protests, which, for the first time, were joined by high-ranking legal officials as part of The Black Robes movement, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut gave a speech that may come to define her time in the role.

Hayut branded Levin’s judicial makeover as an “unbridled attack” meant to “crush the justice system.” If it is implemented, she said, “the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence will be remembered as the year in which the country’s democratic identity was dealt a fatal blow.”

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut speaks at a conference in Haifa on January 12, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Levin bit back — hard and fast. The Supreme Court, he said, was simply a political party that “places itself above the Knesset, above the public referendum,” and he accused Hayut of trying to “set the streets on fire.”

The next day, on January 13, government ministers Yoav Gallant and Bezalel Smotrich, and then-IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi, met to hash out the transfer of West Bank powers to Smotrich, as per coalition agreements.

It didn’t go well, with Smotrich clashing with Kohavi. “He’s confused,” wrote the finance minister, who served a shortened army stint in a noncombat role, about the IDF chief of staff.

On January 14, on a particularly rainy Saturday night, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Habima Square in Tel Aviv, as well as in Haifa and Beersheba. Estimates suggested 50,000 to 80,000 demonstrators attended the rally, the majority of them standing in the pouring rain, umbrellas in hand. From that moment it was clear that the demonstrations were going to be particularly determined.

On January 15, Likud MK Tally Gotliv requested that Levin initiate moves to remove Supreme Court President Hayut.

Israeli protesters attend a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

In the weeks leading up to this, Gotliv (on multiple occasions) had also called for the removal of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, and on at least one occasion called for sacking Bank of Israel governor Amir Yaron, who had expressed concerns about the economic impact of the overhaul.

On the same day, the cabinet approved a transfer of authority to far-right MK Avi Maoz, of the anti-LBGTQ Noam faction, appointing him as an overseer of external programming in schools.

As a result, dozens of city mayors penned a letter saying they would continue to finance any external school programs slated for cancelation by Maoz. A pool of 160 educators was established offering to teach the canceled curriculum for free. A large number of petitions circulated from parents, teachers and school administrators objecting to any educational role for Maoz.

Deri dismissed; protests escalate

On January 16, Levin suggested that the indictments filed against Netanyahu “contributed to the very wide public understanding that there are failures in the [legal] system that must be fixed.”

Social media was awash with past videos, speeches and interviews of Netanyahu in which he had promised to defend the independence of the High Court to the hilt.

On that same day, thousands of students from across the country joined the protests, and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee’s head, MK Simcha Rothman, presented a bill that seeks to turn legal advisers into mere political appointments

On January 17, Levin and Hayut held their first meeting — but no understanding was reached.

The following day, January 18, the Supreme Court announced its decision to void Deri’s appointment as a minister. Netanyahu and other coalition top brass made solidarity visits to Deri’s Jerusalem home.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves the Jerusalem home of Aryeh Deri, having visited the Shas leader hours after a High Court ruling disqualifying Deri from ministerial office, January 18, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On his way there, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, who is gay, faced personal abuse from Deri’s supporters.

On January 19, Netanyahu prevented his chauffeurs, who had also driven former prime ministers Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, from returning to work, forcing them to seek an injunction from the courts. Netanyahu also prevented Prime Minister’s Office legal adviser Shlomit Barnea Pargo from joining a cabinet meeting.

Pargo, later that day, sent a letter to the premier in which she ordered him to remove Deri from his cabinet, as per the High Court’s orders. Declaring his reluctance, Netanyahu complied with the demand a few days later.

On the night between January 19-20, IDF soldiers and Border Police forces evacuated an illegal West Bank outpost known as Or Chaim, established in the name of the recently deceased Rabbi Haim Drukman. Smotrich issued an order to halt the evacuation. Defense Minister Gallant ignored it.

Netanyahu supported Gallant, and Smotrich continued to gripe over the fact that he still had not received the West Bank powers promised to him by Netanyahu in coalition agreements.

On Saturday night, January 21, around 100,000 protesters gathered at the intersection between Kaplan Street and Begin Road in Tel Aviv — the largest protest to date against the judicial overhaul.

Hundreds of others demonstrated in front of President Isaac Herzog’s official residence in Jerusalem as well as in Beersheba, Herzliya, Haifa and other locations. Lapid, for the first time, joined the Tel Aviv rally.

On January 22, the Culture and Sports Ministry, led by MK Miki Zohar, ordered local councils in the country’s periphery to halt cultural activities during the Sabbath. In 2021, Chili Tropper, culture and sports minister under the previous government, had permitted municipalities to open museums and heritage sites during the Sabbath. Zohar’s decision was met with anger, and Netanyahu quickly ordered that he rescind it.

On January 23, Deri convened a Shas faction meeting where he warned against legal officials conducting a coup. Netanyahu attended the meeting and made a supportive speech.

“We are acting according to the law. We won’t allow the State of Israel to fall into the hands of anarchists,” said Deri.

On that same day, the heads of all the Israeli universities — including the more conservative Ariel and Bar-Ilan universities — published a public statement warning against the overhaul. “Levin’s plans will cause a brain drain and international isolation,” they wrote.

Later that afternoon, macroeconomics professor Moshe Hazan resigned from his position on the six-person monetary committee at the Bank of Israel because he wanted to take a more active role in the burgeoning protest movement.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (center), Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right), and COGAT head Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian (left) hold a meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, January 12, 2023. (Courtesy)

On January 24, Netanyahu tried to broker a conclusion to the ongoing rift between Smotrich and Gallant over West Bank powers promised to the former. No result was reached.

Also on that day, MK Gafni floated the idea of enforced gender segregation at national park springs and beaches around the country, igniting outrage. Likud was quick to respond: “The status quo will not be harmed.”

Hundreds of teachers and tech industry workers across the country went out to protest against the judicial makeover. The tech workers blocked roads in the center of Tel Aviv, and an organization representing legal prosecutors declared a work dispute.

President Herzog gave a speech at an education conference, and not for the first time devoted most of it to the “difficult disagreement” and to the fact that democratic foundations, namely civil rights, “are a sacred thing.”

Winds of change

January 25 saw a critical change in the direction of the battle against the overhaul. A letter was published, signed by economists and local business leaders, including some that previously worked under Netanyahu, charging that the overhaul endangered Israel’s economic future. It was this letter that opened the floodgates for an avalanche of other similar letters, statements and demonstrations across various industries in the following weeks.

On January 26, Eynat Guez, CEO of Papaya Global, announced that her company would pull its capital from the country and move it abroad, where it would be more secure.

Guez’s decision uncovered a wave of business leaders planning to follow her lead. Wiz CEO Assaf Rappaport joined her, announcing that planned future investments (worth $300 million) would not be deposited in Israel.

Two days later, on January 27, Netanyahu convened around 25 business executives in Tel Aviv to explain to them that his judicial restructuring would not harm the economy, claiming that Israel’s GDP would in fact be strengthened due to less “legalization.” The identities of those Netanyahu met with in Tel Aviv remain a mystery; a photo released from the meeting shows only the backs of those in attendance.

A handout photo from the Likud party shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with a group of businesspeople at his Likud party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 27, 2023. (Courtesy)

However, journalists later learned that bank heads at the meeting warned Netanyahu in no uncertain terms that money would flow out of the country. A short time later, Discount Bank CEO Uri Levin said he would join the protests against the overhaul.

That day, Twitter suspended MK Almog Cohen of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party after he tweeted praise for an IDF operation in Jenin that killed nine Palestinians, most of whom were armed. An unarmed woman was also killed. “Good and professional work by the fighters in Jenin, keep killing them,” Cohen wrote, later clarifying that he was only praising the deaths of terrorists, and not of civilians.

That night, seven Israelis were killed in a terror attack in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood. Ben Gvir arrived on the scene to taunts from local residents: “This was on your watch,” one told him.

On Saturday morning, January 28, Ben Gvir criticized Baharav-Miara for hesitating to grant a request to seal the family home of the terror suspect.

On that same morning, another shooting attack occurred near East Jerusalem’s City of David, just outside the walls of the Old City, carried out by a 13-year-old boy. An unnamed IDF officer was wounded, and would only be released from the hospital more than five weeks after the incident.

Following that bloody Shabbat, tens of thousands of people demonstrated again across the country in a host of different locations on Saturday night. They paused for a moment’s silence in memory of the weekend’s terror victims, before continuing in their battle against the overhaul.

Meanwhile, TV reporters flocked to Neve Yaakov, a Jewish neighborhood deep in East Jerusalem, to cover the attack’s aftermath, only to be met with violence and intimidation from some locals. The incident was condemned by Kobi Shabtai, the chief of police.

On January 30, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel, where he encouraged Netanyahu to pursue only those judicial changes backed by a broad public consensus. Blinken also reminded the prime minister that the Jewish state’s relationship with the US is founded on “shared values.”

On January 31, Rothman, head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, submitted legislation aimed at restricting the right of labor union members to launch strike actions.

The president wades in

On February 1, the 37th government of Israel requested that the court delay a decision on the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin encampment that the state says was built without permits, just as previous governments led by Naftali Bennett, and before that Netanyahu, had done.

Meanwhile, Ben Gvir said he would forbid Palestinian prisoners from making fresh-baked pitas in an effort to clamp down on what he believed were unnecessary luxuries and perks granted to prisoners.

The same day, Levin said in an interview that by starting to fire judges and using a government-controlled panel to appoint new ones, he could speed up the process of shifting the makeup of the court to jurists favored by the right wing, which he said would diversify the bench.

On February 2, Baharav-Miara published an opinion forbidding Netanyahu from any involvement with the judicial overhaul, pointing to a conflict of interest relating to Netanyahu’s indictments in a series of corruption cases still before the court.

Later that day, Netanyahu departed on an official visit to France — his first to a Western country since returning to office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron (R) gesture prior to a working dinner at the Presidential Elysee Palace in Paris on February 2, 2023. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)

During the visit, French President Emmanuel Macron told Netanyahu that if Israel pursued its overhaul plans, Paris would conclude that the Jewish state was no longer a democracy, Le Monde reported.

The visit, which stretched from Thursday until Saturday night, produced no clear diplomatic or economic achievements, the first of several weekend jaunts to European capitals with similar results.

While Netanyahu crowed to Israeli journalists about a successful meeting he had with French business leaders, the account quickly unraveled in the press, which reported that the premier was criticized at the summit over his coalition’s policies.

While Netanyahu was away in Paris, JP Morgan Chase, the largest investment bank in the US, published an in-house document discussing the hidden dangers of Israel’s legal overhaul.

On Saturday, February 4, around 100,000 people came out to participate in a massive protest in Tel Aviv, with thousands more joining rallies around the nation.

On February 5, hundreds of women protested the potential deterioration of gender equality in Israel should the overhaul pass.

That evening, President Herzog, called in an address to the nation for the coalition to freeze the legislative process and engage in mediation with the opposition. Levin immediately rejected the overture, declaring that while the legislative process would continue at full steam, the opposition was welcome to debate the merits of the bills in the Knesset at any time.

On February 8, thousands of reservists began a three-day march from Latrun, the site of a famous 1948 battle between a fledgling IDF and Jordan’s Arab Legion, to Jerusalem, about a 25 kilometer (15.5 mile) hike. The march culminated with a large rally outside the Supreme Court. As the reservists began their march, Information Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan publicly accused them of being financed by Germany and Iran.

Hundreds of IDF reservists and veterans begin a march from Latrun to Jerusalem to protest the government’s judicial overhaul plans, February 7, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

While the Iranians paid little heed, the comments caused a small dustup with Berlin, sparking befuddled requests for clarification from German ambassador Stephan Seibert.

On February 9, the Shas party, a member of the coalition, announced it was proposing a bill that would make it a criminal offense, punishable up to six months in prison or a NIS 10,000 ($2,900) fine, to dress immodestly at the Western Wall or to pray there in a manner not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate, such as in a mixed-gender configuration. The bill was met with fierce criticism, and within hours Netanyahu was forced to publish a video vowing to leave the status quo in place at the holy site.

That evening, police used forceful tactics to disperse demonstrators holding a torchlit rally outside the prime minister’s private residence on Jerusalem’s Azza Street. Incensed by the scenes, Ben Gvir summoned Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman, to rebuke him for what he described as a soft police response.

After the minister made sure to publicize his decision to dress down Turgeman, Shabtai, the police chief, published his own statement backing the Jerusalem commander and admonishing Ben Gvir for trying to discipline cops while they are still operating in the field, instead of waiting to look into it more thoroughly.

Israeli police forensic team work at the site of a car-ramming attack at a bus stop in Ramot in Jerusalem, Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

On February 10, a Palestinian terrorist drove his car into a group of people at a crowded bus stop in the Ramot neighborhood of the capital, killing three, including two young brothers. The attack raised more uncomfortable questions about whether Ben Gvir, elected on promises of restoring law and order, and the government, which had ridiculed its predecessors’ response to terror, can deliver safety and security.

At the scene of the attack, Ben Gvir was spotted bickering with Shabtai, hours after their previous public spat.

The minister called publicly for the launch of a sequel to Operation Defensive Shield in East Jerusalem, despite the absence of any military preparation or cabinet approval for a broad offensive akin to the month-long 2002 campaign throughout the West Bank to stem Palestinian terror.

His plan was swiftly chopped down by the prime minister. “We do not announce operations from highways in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said in a statement designed to belittle Ben Gvir.

On February 11, as more than 100,000 demonstrated across the nation, blocking the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, 18 retired supreme court judges released a statement rejecting Levin’s overhaul proposal. A separate statement from 12 former heads of the National Security Council, including some who worked under previous Netanyahu governments, called for the coalition and opposition to conduct compromise talks.

Thousands of Israeli protesters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government in Tel Aviv on February 11, 2023. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

On February 12, The New York Times published a column by Thomas Friedman, in which he quoted US President Joe Biden weighing in on the judicial overhaul for the first time.

“Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained,” Biden said.

The same day, Israel’s security cabinet authorized nine West Bank outposts, drawing the usual wave of condemnation from the West. At the same time, Gallant ordered the evacuation of an illegal outpost outside the West Bank settlement Nahliel.

A woman watches President Issac Herzog’s speech on the proposed changes to the legal system, at a home in Kibbutz Mishmar David, February 12, 2023. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

That night, Herzog delivered an address to the nation laying out foundational principles he believed could form the basis of a compromise deal between the overhaul’s proponents and opponents.

After the speech, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi called “to continue with the reforms with full force,” indicating that there would be no pause.

February 13 was designated a national strike day for businesses, lawyers and schools, with rallies held in a range of locations.

In Jerusalem, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved a bill giving the coalition control of the panel which appoints judges and barring the High Court from striking down quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

The move to send the first piece of the overhaul package to the Knesset for its first reading was met with furious denunciations inside the meeting room. Outside, masses of protesters who flooded Jerusalem rallied against the legislation.

On February 14, Lapid met with Herzog and reiterated his call for the overhaul process to be frozen in favor of compromise talks.

‘Pump the brakes’

On February 15, the Defense Ministry moved to uproot trees planted by settlers on private land owned by Palestinians near the West Bank settlement of Shiloh. Smotrich attempted to prevent the operation, but to no avail. Gallant had ordered the trees’ removal, and Netanyahu only intervened to halt the operation once it had already finished.

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech stands in front of a bulldozer on a plot of land near the settlement of Shiloh in the West Bank to stop the uprooting of trees by the Civil Administration of the Defense Ministry, February 15, 2023. (Office of Limor Son Har Melech)

Smotrich admitted that evening that he did not have the power to stop such an operation.

The head of the Shin Bet intelligence service reportedly warned Ben Gvir that his actions and conduct could lead the region to violence.

In Haifa, dozens of tech workers held a protest.

Coalition whip Ofir Katz said that he did not see any possibility of reaching a compromise on the judicial overhaul.

On February 16, President Herzog asked Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to allow Netanyahu’s participation in compromise talks regarding his government’s legal makeover, despite a conflict of interest ruling barring him from doing so. Baharav-Miara refused.

Shabtai sent a letter to his officers explaining that the right to protest is a democratic right and that the police need to behave professionally and carefully with demonstrators. The rift between Shabtai and Ben Gvir continued to widen.

A group of veteran soldiers who fought in the Yom Kippur War, and other activists, standing next to a tank they removed from the Tel Saki memorial site in the Golan Heights. They planned to use it in a protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul. February 16, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Police announced that they were investigating after a bombed-out military tank from a war memorial site in the country’s north was stolen, apparently by a military veteran group protesting the overhaul. The right accused the activists of attempting to incite a military coup.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told a podcast that he was advising Netanyahu to “pump the brakes” on his government’s judicial overhaul.

On February 18, more than 100,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. Even smaller cities like Kfar Saba held protests that drew tens of thousands. Yoram Cohen, the former Shin Bet chief under a previous Netanyahu government, joined the demonstrations in the capital, telling the crowd that Israel was in danger of becoming an undemocratic state.

Former head of the Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen, speaks at a protest against the Israeli government’s planned overhaul to the legal system, in Jerusalem. February 18, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At the end of the Tel Aviv rally, protesters again blocked the city’s Ayalon Highway.

On February 19, the president said he had spoken to both sides of the judicial overhaul debate, and said it was possible to reach an agreement within a few days.

The same day, Netanyahu established a ministerial panel tasked with combating Palestinian incitement. At its head, he appointed Ben Gvir, himself previously convicted of incitement.

On February 20, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar warned that tensions within Israeli society were endangering the country’s stability.

That evening, the Knesset held its first reading of the bill to remake the judicial selection panel, giving the coalition control of appointments to the High Court, which passed easily.

Lapid and Gantz declared that with the bill advancing, there were no longer any grounds for compromise talks. Nonetheless, Netanyahu continued to make public overtures to the opposition on talks, while also refusing to halt the legislation.

Protesters who had gathered outside lawmakers’ homes for morning demonstrations made their way to Jerusalem in the afternoon to rally against the overhaul outside the Knesset as the vote was held inside. Many roads in Jerusalem were shut.

Earlier, the legal adviser to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee had warned that additional planned legislation, radically limiting the scope of judicial review, would leave fundamental human rights and civil rights, including to free speech and freedom of religion, unprotected.

Israelis protest against government plans to overhaul the judicial system outside the Knesset, with the Bank of Israel headquarters seen in the background, February 20, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

As the voting stretched past midnight, MK Almog Cohen of Otzma Yehudit started to live stream from his phone.

In the footage, which would quickly go viral, Almog could be heard making animal noises and using racist slurs toward Arab MK Ahmad Tibi, and making derogatory remarks to MKs Ofer Kassif and Merav Ben-Ari.

Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen reacts during a discussion in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana responded by banning live streaming in the Knesset plenum. There was no official reprimand.

On February 21, Levin intimated that he could soon fire the attorney general. For her part, Baharav-Miara said she would not be deterred and would continue to perform her duties.

Dozens of Air Force officers protested outside the home of Likud MK Yoav Kisch, a former pilot, and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen criticized the Bank of Israel’s decision to hike interest rates.

Cohen’s comments helped send stock prices on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange plummeting, triggering a series of English and Hebrew tweets from the prime minister in which he affirmed the central bank’s ongoing independence. Critics questioned whether he could be trusted to do so, recalling his previous comments defending the independence of the now under-threat judiciary.

Also on February 21, the UN called on Israel to pause its judicial makeover, but few in Israel took notice. Justice Minister Levin promised that all attempts to stop the process would fail.

Four hundred and fifty former Shin Bet employees wrote to minister Avi Dichter, a former head of the agency, urging a halt to his government’s legislative push, which they said endangers Israeli democracy. Dichter did not respond.

From protests to pogrom

On February 22, the Knesset advanced another stack of bills that would nullify or limit the Supreme Court’s powers through preliminary reading.

Among the proposed legislation was a bill to return Aryeh Deri to his ministerial position by removing the court’s authority to disqualify ministers. Also approved in pre-reading was the 61-vote override clause, the “hametz law” forbidding leavened products in public hospitals during the Passover festival, and legislation seeking to expand the power of religious courts operated by the rabbinate.

Netanyahu, fearing an economic collapse, told coalition MKs to stop publicly commenting on the Bank of Israel’s decisions.

On February 23, the Knesset Finance Committee approved Netanyahu’s request for the state to pay for housing expenses at two of his family’s private residences, as well as NIS 45,000-80,000 ($12,000-22,000) per year for new clothes.

The same day, Gallant signed an agreement handing long-sought West Bank powers to Smotrich.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Finance Minister and Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich (second from right), and with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (third from right), after they signed an agreement transferring authorities for civilian affairs in the West Bank to Smotrich, February 23, 2023. (Courtesy: Office of the Finance Minister)

According to the agreement, the majority of civilian powers in the West Bank were to be transferred to Smotrich, among them the body responsible for monitoring and enforcing construction projects in the West Bank. The IDF was set to maintain its right to evacuate new outposts established illegally by settlers.

On February 24, some Mossad spy agency employees requested permission to join demonstrations against the judicial program.

Netanyahu, in remarks that critics saw as indicating his disconnect from what was happening on the streets, dismissed the protesters as anti-vaxxers and the same people who rallied against the state’s natural gas extraction deal.

Later on, reserve soldiers in the IDF representing an array of ranks and units, up to the high-ranking brigadier general, said they would refuse to serve in the reserves if the legal overhaul bills were passed. “We agreed to serve in a democratic state, not in a dictatorship,” they said.

On February 25, an estimated 300,000 people came out to protest, including some 160,000 in Tel Aviv alone. Among the demonstrators were some 500 women dressed in iconic Handmaid’s Tale costumes, who have since become a mainstay.

Protesters against the government’s judicial overhaul, dressed as handmaids, at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square on February 25, 2023 (Zohar Tal)

Also in Tel Aviv was Netanyahu’s former chief of staff (until 2019) and close confidant Yoav Horovitz.

At the end of the rally, protesters once again blocked the Ayalon Highway, and some lit bonfires on the emptied thoroughfare.

UK news outlet The Financial Times published an editorial saying that “the overhaul will have serious consequences for Israel, the Middle East and the West.”

Brothers Hallel (left) and Yagel Yaniv, who were killed in a terror attack in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Courtesy)

On the morning of February 26, terrorists opened fire on an Israeli car as it drove through the West Bank Palestinian town of Huwara, killing brothers Hallel and Yagel Yaniv.

The incident occurred as Israeli officials reached agreements with the Palestinian Authority in Aqaba, Jordan, on the reaffirmation of the Oslo Accords, and a commitment to cease new settlement approvals for four months.

Cars and homes are torched by settlers in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

That evening, hundreds of Israelis entered the Palestinian town and other villages in the area, attacking people and setting fire to 15 homes and dozens of vehicles, in an incident the IDF general in command of the area later termed a pogrom. The IDF was criticized for taking several hours to restore order and for not heeding intelligence on the settlers’ plans. The incident drew condemnation from around the world.

Dozens of reserve soldiers and commanders from the intelligence and research wing of the IDF said they would cease their service if the judicial reforms materialized.

On February 27, the Otzma Yehudit party, citing the government’s soft West Bank policies, chose to boycott a Knesset session in which Netanyahu was slated to speak. Deputy minister Avi Moaz resigned from his position in protest of a lack of power designated to him.

The same day, settlers were accused of attempting to ram IDF soldiers in Huwara, and throwing stones at them.

Otzma Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel offered strong support for settler vigilantism against Palestinian civilians, calling the rampage in Huwara “very positive,” saying “We need burning villages,” and predicting that it would act as a major deterrent. Others in the party also praised the attack.

The resistance and the hair salon siege

Wednesday, March 1, was declared by protest organizers as a “day of disruption,” and would turn out to be one of the most dramatic days since the overhaul was announced. Protests and road closures were held across the country, including outside educational institutions.

But this time, the police response was different; more aggressive tactics were used, such as stun grenades. The Tel Aviv chief of police, Amichai Eshed, had left the country for a few days and his deputy David Filo, was filling in. As police attempted to control the crowds of protesters, Ben Gvir and Shabtai showed up at police headquarters in Tel Aviv. To some, the aggressive police tactics looked like an attempt to impress the ultra-hawkish minister.

Medics treat an injured man after police on horseback were deployed and stun grenades used to disperse demonstrators blocking a main road to protest the government’s plan to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 1, 2023. (Oded Balilty/AP)

Police claimed that demonstrators threw rocks and other items at officers, but footage from the scene showed no such assaults. One protester had his ear badly damaged by an exploding stun grenade, while a handful of journalists and civilians were lightly injured.

Finance Minister and Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich speaks at a conference hosted by The Marker on March 1, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

On the same day, Smotrich was interviewed at a conference, where he was asked about calls from government members to burn the Palestinian village of Huwara. “I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it,” he said, adding, though, that the job shouldn’t be done via personal vigilantism.

His comments stoked outrage across the country, and would later ricochet across the world, quickly turning Smotrich persona non grata internationally.

Israelis demonstrate outside a hair salon in Tel Aviv where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara Netanyahu was, on March 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The day’s protests closed with what would prove to be a watershed event. As night fell, rumor spread among protester WhatsApp groups that Sara Netanyahu, the premier’s wife, was getting her hair done at a Kikar Hamedina salon, right in the heart of the protests: Tel Aviv. Quickly, the salon was surrounded by a crowd of at least 1,000, with more on the way.

The police sent special forces, including horse-mounted police, to extract Netanyahu from the hair salon. Stuck inside, the prime minister’s wife spoke on the phone with Ben Gvir and with his wife Ayala to coordinate her extraction, an ultimately peaceful operation, despite later claims by Netanyahu and allies that his wife’s life had been threatened.

On March 3, condemnations from around the world continued to pile on Smotrich for his Huwara comments, including from the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and even Washington. Dozens of Jewish organizations published a call to block Smotrich from taking the stage at an upcoming Israel Bonds Conference he was set to address in DC.

Protesters walk along Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway, March 4, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

On Saturday night, March 4, hundreds of protests were organized across Israel. Demonstrators blocked the Ayalon Highway.

On Sunday, March 5, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation agreed to advance a bill that would allow politicians, including Netanyahu, to fund their legal defenses via donations from private individuals. This came despite the attorney general’s opposition to the legislation.

Also on that day, IDF Chief of Staff Halevi warned Netanyahu that the number of reservists refusing service was growing, threatening the IDF’s operational readiness.

On March 6, the Jewish festival of Purim, 200 military doctors announced they would refuse to volunteer for reserve duty.

The doctors joined some of the army’s most vaunted reservists openly refusing to report for service: fighter pilots from Unit 68, hundreds of special operations personnel in the IDF’s elite intelligence Unit 8200, a group from the helicopter search and rescue Unit 669, and others.

As the issue gathered steam, Defense Minister Gallant spoke out against the phenomenon of refusals, but also emphasized that “those who disparage IDF soldiers, whether from the right or left, have no place in public service.”

On March 8, Michael Sarel, chief economist at the Kohelet Policy Forum, warned that the overhaul proposal could cause severe damage to the economy. The statement was a shocking admission from the head of a conservative think tank that has been deeply involved in the government’s overhaul push.

That evening, thousands of women wearing red marked International Women’s Day, forming human chains under the protest banner “setting a red line.” Similar events took place in cities around the country.

The entrance to the offices of the Kohelet Forum, the conservative think tank deeply involved in the judicial overhaul, blockaded by protesters, March 9, 2023. (Israel Police)

Protest groups declared March 9 as a “day of resistance” against the overhaul. The day began with activists blockading the office doors of the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem with barbed wire and sandbags.

In the morning, various demonstrations were organized on Israel’s coastal highway, university campuses and major intersections. In Haifa Bay, activists set up a flotilla, blocking the entrance to the port.

Israelis on boats protest the government’s planned judicial overhaul, at the sea in Haifa, northern Israel, March 9, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Hundreds of protesters gathered in their cars at Ben Gurion International Airport, in an attempt to block Netanyahu from flying to Rome for a state visit. In an attempt to fool protesters, a decoy helicopter took off from Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, while the prime minister flew to the airport in another chopper.

Prior to his departure, Netanyahu met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who had decided to truncate his visit in light of the mass demonstrations.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together with their delegations, meet at Ben Gurion Airport on March 9, 2023. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Austin landed at the airport, met with Netanyahu and other government officials at the nearby offices of the Israel Aerospace Industries, and swiftly departed, just as he would do if he was visiting a dangerous country.

Netanyahu flew to Rome while the streets of Israel played host to massive demonstrations and road closures, as protesters faced off against police who deployed water cannons and mounted forces to disperse crowds around the country.

On the same day, Israel Air Force head Tomer Bar decided to fire Gilad Peled, a reserve pilot allegedly encouraging active reservists to stop volunteering.

Yair Netanyahu, the son of the prime minister, accused leading police officials and the state prosecution of being in collusion with protesters. “The police and prosecutorial brass are the ones actually carrying out the road closures every few days… they are truly responsible for the chaos here,” he wrote on social media.

Herzog took to national TV to again address the country. “I cannot watch my nation be ripped apart before my eyes. What is happening here is a tragedy,” he said, adding that the proposed overhaul legislation needed to “disappear from the world, and fast.”

President Isaac Herzog gives a primetime speech pleading for compromise on the judicial overhaul plan, on March 9, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The same night, Ben Gvir and Shabtai announced they had elected to remove Eshed from his post as head of Tel Aviv police due to his “soft hand” in dealing with demonstrators.

Tel Aviv district police chief Amichai Eshed speaks to the media at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

An hour later, Eshed was required to continue to act in his role as he rushed from a protest site to the scene of a terror attack on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street.

Or Eshkar, 32, victim of a terror shooting in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2023. (Courtesy)

Journalists looked on as the prime minister was informed of the attack, and watched him trying to maintain a poker face as he sat in a Rome synagogue listening to Italian community leaders scold him for his government’s legislative agenda.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being informed of the terror attack in Tel Aviv while in a synagogue in Rome, March 9, 2023. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Close to midnight, hundreds of anti-government demonstrators gathered outside Eshed’s home in Kfar Saba in a show of support.

On March 10, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara released a statement freezing Eshed’s removal, pending a closer examination.

His sacking would not be the only one put on ice. In the air force, Bar retracted his decision to fire Peled, once he was satisfied that the reserves pilot had not coordinated a refusal to serve among other reservists.

Friday demonstrations took place outside Gallant’s house in Amikam in northern Israel, among other places. Those gathered there, which included former soldiers in the elite Shayetet 13 Unit once led by Gallant, had identified the minister as a target that could be directly and successfully pressured.

Halevi, the IDF chief, was quoted in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that day as saying: “A secure dictatorship is better than an unprotected anarchy.” Two days later, he issued a clarification and walked back the statement.

In Rome, Israelis and Italian Jews held a demonstration against the visiting prime minister. Throughout Netanyahu’s stay, and during briefings with Israeli journalists, the premier claimed that foreign agents were financing the protests against the judicial overhaul, echoing his son Yair’s claims on social media.

On Saturday, March 11, members of Shayetet 13 uploaded a video to social media showing them chanting against Gallant as he left the beach after swimming and went about his morning exercise routine, Army comrades remained outside his home until the late afternoon.

On Saturday night, Shabtai admitted on TV that he had made a mistake in firing Eshed, and said that the move had been suspended.

That night, mass demonstrations once again took place in their traditional Saturday night timeslot. Many roads were blocked around the country, and protesters were met with pepper spray and violence from police.

On Sunday, March 12, Ben Gvir told the weekly cabinet meeting that the government needed to decide what to do with the attorney general — a thinly veiled threat to fire her.

In Washington, Smotrich stood before a room of Israel Bonds supporters and, in heavily accented English, apologized for his Huwara remarks. But the lasting effects of those original comments were laid bare on the trip, as US officials’ refusals to meet with Smotrich highlighted his isolation. Even Jewish groups declined to meet with him, some openly rebuffing him.

T’ruah CEO Jill Jacobs addresses a protest against Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich outside the Grand Hyatt hotel in Washington on March 12, 2023. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

On March 13, the Knesset advanced a bill that would prevent the High Court of Justice from having the power to suspend the prime minister from serving in office. The bill limited the cases in which a premier could be removed to only those in which they exhibit a lack of physical or mental fitness, a decision which must be ratified by three-quarters of cabinet ministers and 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members.

On March 14, lawmakers approved the controversial override law on the first of three readings. The law would allow the parliament to nullify Supreme Court decisions with a majority of 61 MKs.

The Knesset also approved amendments repealing parts of the Disengagement Law that had placed parts of the northern West Bank off limits to settlers, potentially allowing them to reestablish evacuated settlements there.

On March 15, Smotrich announced he was cutting his Washington trip short to return to Israel, in order to take an active role in negotiations over what his office referred to as “governance reform.”

That night, Herzog rolled out his much-anticipated draft outline for judicial reform. Branded the “People’s Framework,” the plan was largely accepted by the opposition but rejected out of hand by the coalition, whose lawmakers claimed it only “perpetuated the status quo.”

Days of thunder

March 16 was declared a “day of escalating resistance” against the judicial overhaul. The day began with a demonstration coordinated by the “Brothers in Arms” veterans protest group, who established an ersatz IDF “draft office” in the center of Haredi Bnei Brak.

The provocative move pointed to one of the driving forces behind the government’s effort to immunize legislation from High Court meddling: ultra-Orthodox parties seeking a law allowing members of the Haredi community to skirt otherwise mandatory military service, previous versions of which had been struck down.

Demonstrators block a highway during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 16, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

MK David Bitan called on his fellow Likud party members to stop the judicial overhaul in favor of dialogue with the opposition. Simultaneously, large groups of demonstrators blocked major roads and intersections around the country.

Economy Minister Nir Barkat blamed protesters for throwing a rock at a conference hall where he was participating in an event in Kfar Saba.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, was in Berlin for a state visit, where he was greeted, just as in Rome, with protests at every turn.

On March 17, Yair Netanyahu compared demonstrators to the Nazi Sturmabteilung paramilitary, also known as brownshirts.

On Saturday, March 18, dozens of people demonstrated next to a synagogue in Moshav Kfar Uriah, where Ben Gvir and his family were staying for the weekend. The protest resulted in a clash between protesters, police and residents of the small town.

A smoke grenade is thrown toward protesters demonstrating against National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir in Kfar Uriah, March 18, 2023. (Screengrab; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Once again, the masses turned out on Saturday night across the country. Protesters blocked the Ayalon Highway.

On March 19, Netanyahu ordered the police chief to prevent demonstrators from blocking roads. He also asked the IDF chief of staff to deal with the growing number of reservists refusing and threatening to refuse military service.

That day, a new group of pilots joined those saying they would cease volunteering for training exercises.

At the same time, the overhaul legislative process plowed ahead in the Knesset and protesters hounded coalition MKs, including at a Likud event in Ra’anana which included lawmakers Boaz Bismuth and Galit Distel Atbaryan.

US President Joe Biden called Netanyahu, and the two discussed the judicial overhaul. According to a White House readout, Biden requested that Netanyahu work to find a broad consensus for his judicial makeover.

On March 20, MK Simcha Rothman, in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, presented changes to a bill ostensibly softening the proposed restructuring of the judge selection panel.

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK Simcha Rothman heads a committee hearing, March 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rothman’s new plan would give the government control of the first two seats to open on the High Court in each term of a government (rather than all High Court appointments as in the previous draft), heavy influence over further appointments to the top court, and (as in the previous draft) the right to choose the High Court president, and control over appointments of judges throughout the rest of the court system. Widely criticized by the opposition, Rothman’s committee began preparations for the amended bill to go to the Knesset for its second and third votes before becoming law.

Gallant privately told Netanyahu that he would find it difficult to stay in his role if the government pushed on with its legislative agenda. He warned the premier about the dangerous security impacts stemming from the refusal of reservists to serve in the IDF.

The French government and the White House rebuked Smotrich for saying that there is “no such thing as the Palestinian people,” at a private memorial service for a prominent right-wing Likud activist. The French government said that no officials met with Smotrich during the single-day trip.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks in Paris on March 19, 2023. (Ynet screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Smotrich had delivered his remarks from behind a podium displaying a Revisionist Zionist image of so-called “Greater Israel” — comprising modern-day Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and all of Jordan. The image would draw stiff condemnation from Jordan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others.

On March 21, the Knesset ethics committee scolded MK Tally Gotliv for her earlier comments in which she blamed Supreme Court President Esther Hayut for a deadly Jerusalem terrorist attack that left two children dead and another youngster injured.  She was banned from speaking in the Knesset for three days.

MK David Amsalem threatened Shabtai, telling him that, in the future, he could be investigated for his behavior regarding protests.

The Knesset gave final approval to repealing part of the Disengagement Law, a move met with condemnation and astonishment in Washington and other places.

Visitors at the evacuated settlement of Homesh in the West Bank, August 27, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

In its wake, MK Limor Son Har-Melech called for new settlements to be established in the now-open northern West Bank.

Religious Zionism lawmaker Orit Strock said in an interview that the next step was a return to Gaza, even at the cost of lives. Netanyahu released a clarification, stating that new settlements would not be established in the northern West Bank.

In the afternoon, leaders of the Brothers in Arms protest group called a press conference, in which they warned that if even one element of the judicial overhaul plan became law, they and many others would cease volunteering for reserve duty.

That night, the bill to protect Netanyahu from being forced to step down was approved in a second and third Knesset reading.

On March 22, the US State Department, angered by the Israeli government’s amendment of the Disengagement Law, summoned Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog for an unscheduled meeting.

Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf was heckled off stage by demonstrators who interrupted his appearance at a Tel Aviv conference. At a film industry event in Kfar Saba, Culture Minister Miki Zohar was blocked from attending by dozens of protesters.

March 23 was declared a “day of paralysis.” In the day’s early hours, hundreds of activists demonstrated outside MK Aryeh Deri’s Jerusalem home. Alongside the activists, young Haredi men danced in circles.

Employees of the Rafael defense firm demonstrated in the country’s north, while the High Court was petitioned to block the new law designed to protect Netanyahu from being forced to step down.

Locals handing out snacks and water to protesters against Israel’s judicial overhaul on March 23, in Bnei Brak, Israel. (Haim Uzan)

Protesters surrounded Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter as he left a conference at Airport City. One protester was arrested after her flag struck Dichter, who was unhurt. Transportation Minister Miri Regev called for pilots refusing to volunteer for reserve duty to be tried in court.

In the north, police arrested one of the protest movement’s main leaders, Shikma Bressler. Throughout the day, activists blocked roads around the country, including the Ayalon Highway.

Protest leader Shikma Bressler is arrested by police during protests on Route 4, March 23, 2023. (Screenshot)

In the early evening, anti-government protesters began a planned march through the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.

While some launched fireworks at the largely secular demonstrators, other residents heeded calls to not be goaded into fighting and welcomed the protesters with songs and drinks.

Locals handing out snacks and water to protesters against Israel’s judicial overhaul on March 23, in Bnei Brak, Israel. (Haim Uzan)

Supercharging the day’s protests were reports that built throughout the afternoon that Gallant would hold a press conference calling for the government to halt its judicial overhaul legislation.

Netanyahu summoned Gallant for a meeting, and convinced him to push off his statement.

Instead of Gallant, Netanyahu stood before the cameras, telling the public that following the passing of legislation that would protect him from a court order to recuse himself, he would now take a more active role in the judicial overhaul crisis.

In his speech, Netanyahu declared that the legislative blitz would continue the following week upon his return from a state visit to the UK, and that he was determined to push through the changes despite the protests. Protesters fumed at the premier’s defiant stance.

In the evening, MK Simcha Rothman attended a meeting at the home of a tech leader in Ramat Hasharon. Hundreds of protesters who got word congregated outside, blocking Rothman’s exit and necessitating a phalanx of police to extract him.

On March 24, Netanyahu arrived in London, traveling directly from the airport to meet UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Waiting for him were hundreds of demonstrators.

Protesters outside 10 Downing Street in London as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on March 24, 2023. (Amy Spiro/Times of Israel)

Netanyahu was received at 10 Downing Street without any pomp and ceremony and without a joint press conference with Sunak.

In the context of the overhaul, the Israeli premier was reminded by his British counterpart of the importance of upholding “democratic values.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street in London on March 24, 2023. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Later that day, Attorney General Baharav Miara released a statement saying that despite Netanyahu’s claim to be protected from recusal, he was nonetheless forbidden from involving himself in the judicial makeover due to a conflict of interest relating to his ongoing corruption trial.

“Your statement last night and any further actions by you that violate that agreement are completely illegal,” she warned in a public letter.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Yair Netanyahu claimed on Twitter that the US State Department was financing the protest movement against his father’s government. In briefings with Israeli journalists in London, Netanyahu distanced himself from his son’s comments, which had stirred renewed ire in Washington.

March 25, a Saturday, saw a large protest outside Gallant’s home on Moshav Amikam. That night, Gallant finally got his time in front of the TVs, addressing what he said were security dangers caused by the overhaul process, largely due to divisions in the military, but which the government had ignored. The rift now constituted a tangible threat to national security, he warned. He called for the judicial process to be halted in favor of dialogue.

His comments were slammed in right-wing circles. Ben Gvir implored Netanyahu to sack Gallant immediately.

Gallant spoke as more protests were being held around the nation.

Meanwhile, in London, Israelis and local Jewish communities demonstrated opposite the Savoy Hotel, where Netanyahu and his wife were staying.

A sign reading ‘Democracy’ adorned with Israel’s Declaration of Independence at a protest outside the Savoy Hotel in London where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was staying on March 24, 2023. (Amy Spiro/Times of Israel)

On March 26, a protest against Ben Gvir took place in his hometown of Kiryat Arba.

In the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Rothman prevented opposition MKs from speaking at the start of a debate on the legislation regarding the Judicial Selection Committee.

Various demonstrations took place around the country. Thousands convened outside the house of Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel. Protesters blocked the Ayalon Highway. Leading Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi refused to accept the prestigious Israel Prize, saying the time was not right with the country so torn.

That night, Netanyahu announced that he had fired Gallant as defense minister over his call for the judicial overhaul to be halted.

Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul protest outside of the Knesset, after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Jerusalem, Monday, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)

News of Gallant’s sacking fuelled the masses to spontaneously pour into the streets — many of whom headed for Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, and others to Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem and the Knesset.

According to estimates, Tel Aviv alone saw 120,000 people, with innumerable protests nationwide.

Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The Ayalon Highway remained closed to traffic until 5 a.m. the next morning.

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chair Yuli Edelstein said he was convening his committee and would invite Gallant to raise the security concerns mentioned in Gallant’s Saturday night address to the nation.

The strike, pro-overhaul protest and a legislative suspension

The next day, March 27, the head of the powerful Histadrut labor union alongside other labor unions declared a general strike, partly shuttering the airport, academic institutions, malls and hotels.

Calls for the legislation to pause appeared to hit a tipping point, with even Shas head Deri joining the chorus calling for a timeout. Boaz Ben Zur, a key member of Netanyahu’s legal defense team, told the premier he would not continue to represent him in Case 4000 unless he stopped the judicial overhaul.

Ben Gvir threatened to resign if Netanyahu caved. The two met and agreed that the prime minister would establish a National Guard directly under Ben Gvir’s control in exchange for the minister’s support for pausing the legislative process.

Nonetheless, voting in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee continued in preparation for the legislation on judicial selection to be brought to the Knesset for a second and third reading. Amassed outside the Knesset were more than 100,000 demonstrators.

Supporters of the government’s planned judicial overhaul rally in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

In the evening hours, a right-wing demonstration in favor of the overhaul legislation was held in Jerusalem, the first of its kind. According to estimates, 30,000 people took part.

At 8 p.m., Netanyahu announced that he would pause the legislative process for at least a month, until the Knesset’s summer session, beginning May 1. He indicated that the legislation would not be frozen permanently, though, and suggested that the opposition and coalition engage in negotiations at the President’s Residence.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the nation, March 27, 2023. (GPO Screenshot)

The following day, March 28, it was reported that Justice Minister Yariv Levin assured his supporters that the legislation would be advanced in the next Knesset session, and that it was his and the Likud’s intention to “organize demonstrations across Israel to show what the majority of the public wants.”

Despite Netanyahu’s announcement that the legislation was being paused, the bill to give the coalition control of judicial appointments was submitted to the Knesset for its final votes, enabling it to be brought for enactment into law with minimal notice at any later date.

US President Biden urged Netanyahu to “walk away” from his current judicial overhaul legislation, saying he was “very concerned” about the health of Israeli democracy, and warning that Israel “cannot continue down this road.”

Biden also gave an emphatic “no” when asked whether he would be inviting Netanyahu to the White House, adding: “Not in the near term.”

US President Joe Biden speaks to the press at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Morrisville, North Carolina, on March 28, 2023. (Jim Watson/AFP)

On March 30, another protest in favor of the judicial overhaul was held in Tel Aviv. Tens of thousands congregated at Kikar Habima, before proceeding to march to the Ayalon Highway and block the artery.

Senior officials involved in the negotiations under Herzog’s aegis aimed at reaching a compromise over the overhaul legislation were quoted saying the talks were already dead in the water.

Escalating violence on multiple fronts

On April 1, police shot and killed a Bedouin man in the Old City of Jerusalem who they said had grabbed an officer’s gun.

That night, weekly anti-overhaul protests took place once again around the country. On Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street, 165,000 showed up, with a further 120,000 taking to the streets around the country, according to estimates, including 40,000 in Haifa, 40,000 in Kfar Saba and 20,000 in Jerusalem.

A mounted police officer was filmed beating a young woman with a whip. Police said she had been taunting and hitting the horse, which she denied.

A mounted police officer is seen striking a young woman during a protest against the judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, April 1, 2023. (Screenshot/Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

After a heated discussion at their weekly cabinet meeting on April 2, ministers voted in favor of forming Ben Gvir’s national guard, potentially under his direct command, along with a major budget cut across all ministries to fund it.

A guard at Laniado Hospital in central Israel confiscated cookies that were not kosher for Passover from a pregnant woman checking into the medical center, days before the start of the holiday, as hospitals nationwide prepare to implement the “hametz law.”

The government fired its volunteer antisemitism envoy Noa Tishby for criticizing the overhaul, while the Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar warned publicly that the societal rifts over the issue “could lead to disaster.”

The ambassadors from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates stayed away from a Foreign Ministry iftar dinner for diplomats from Muslim countries serving in Israel and local Muslim leaders. Jordan’s envoy was also absent. Turkey and Egypt attended, as did Abderrahim Beyyoudh, head of Morocco’s liaison office in Israel.

On April 3, Shas leader Deri said the government would have broken apart had it tried to push through its judicial overhaul legislation as planned the previous week. Still, he warned that if negotiations for a broadly agreed-upon reform failed, the government would pass its bills unilaterally.

The governor of the Bank of Israel, Amir Yaron, warned that the judicial shakeup would badly harm the economy. In its pessimistic scenario, the bank said the potential impact of overhaul could be a $14 billion annual hit to GDP over the next 3 years.

A two-week-old TV interview surfaced in which Justice Minister Yariv Levin conceded that a key piece of his overhaul legislation would have led to a situation unacceptable in a democratic country, in which the coalition would exercise control over all three branches of government. He claimed that the amended legislation giving the coalition almost but not complete control of appointments to the High Court solved the problem.

Overnight April 4-5, heavy clashes erupted between Palestinians and police inside Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount. Police said they had entered the mosque to dislodge “agitators” who had barricaded themselves inside with fireworks, clubs, and stones. Authorities said 350 people were detained in the unrest.

Screenshot from video showing Israel Police beating Palestinians inside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque overnight April 5. A police official said police forces came under fire in the mosque. (Twitter screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A barrage of rockets was launched at nearby Israeli towns from Gaza early April 5, and the Israel Air Force hit back at Hamas targets in the enclave.

Police detained several people near the Temple Mount with lambs or goats they were suspected of intending to sacrifice at the site for the Passover holiday.

Opposition leader Lapid slammed a Haredi news outlet, Behadrei Haredim, for running a caricature of him as a pig counting money. “This is how antisemites drew Jews for generations,” Lapid tweeted.

A cartoon depicting opposition leader Yair Lapid as a pig counting money, published in the Behadrei Haredim Haredi news site, April 2023. The banners read: ‘Demonstration’ and ‘Never mind what it’s about’ — references to the mass protests against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul, which Lapid has sometimes addressed. (Twitter photo screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

There were more clashes at Al-Aqsa overnight April 5-6, as well as relatively minor riots in Gaza and some Arab communities in Israel.

On the afternoon of April 6, 34 rockets were fired at Israel from southern Lebanon — the heaviest barrage since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Most were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system. At least three people were injured and several buildings were damaged.

Israeli security forces walk next to a bank damaged by rocket fire from Lebanon in Shlomi, northern Israel, near the Lebanese border, Thursday, April 6, 2023. The branch was closed for Passover. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel blamed Lebanon-based Hamas forces for the attack, with Israeli official sources saying it would not have been carried out without Hezbollah’s consent. The salvo came hours after Hezbollah said it would support “all measures” Palestinian groups may take against Israel after the two nights of clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

As the security cabinet discussed how to react, Netanyahu said that ongoing internal debates in Israeli society would not prevent the country from responding firmly and significantly to the escalating violence — a reference to the national crisis over the judicial overhaul. “Our enemies will learn again that during times that we are tested, Israeli citizens stand together united,” he said.

Israel launched airstrikes in the Gaza Strip that night, hitting a series of sites belonging to the Hamas terror group, as Hamas fired rockets at southern Israel.

A man inspects damage at his house left by a rocket following Israeli air strikes in Al Qulaylah, on the outskirts of the city of Tyre, south of the Lebanese capital Beirut on April 7, 2023. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

Early on April 7, Israel also staged strikes in Lebanon, targeting “terrorist infrastructures belonging to Hamas” in the southern part of the country, where Hamas has a strong presence in Palestinian refugee camps. A home in Sderot was hit by one of 44 projectiles launched from Gaza.

As a tense calm returned to the northern and southern borders, a deadly terrorist attack took place in the West Bank, where two sisters were shot dead and their mother was critically injured by a Palestinian gunman as they drove in the Jordan Valley.

Soldiers at the scene of a deadly terrorist shooting attack in the West Bank, near the settlement of Hamra, April 7, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

The IDF ordered a call-up of Air Force reservists, including fighter pilots, and police chief Shabtai told Israelis with firearm permits to carry their guns with them. Far-right coalition members, including ministers Smotrich and Ben Gvir, clamored for tougher action to quell the rising terror wave, lashing out at their own government and the opposition. At the scene of the attack, Netanyahu and Gallant promised that the killer would be found. Netanyahu, in his remarks, referred to Gallant as defense minister, after largely cold-shouldering him for 12 days since announcing his dismissal.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in a phone call that “the Islamic world should be united against Israel’s attacks in Palestine” — an apparent shift for Erdogan, who had been leading a policy over the past year that has seen Turkey warm its ties with Israel.

Later that night, an Italian tourist was killed and seven other people were hurt in a terrorist car-ramming attack on a Tel Aviv promenade. Fearing a further escalation, Netanyahu ordered a call-up of all Border Police reservists.

April 8, 2023, marked 100 days of the Netanyahu-led coalition.

With reporting by Times of Israel staff.

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