Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – For the 33rd week in a row, thousands of demonstrators came out Saturday night in Israel to protest the attempt of the extremist Netanyahu government to neuter the Supreme Court. According to Bar Peleg and Adi Hashmonai at Haaretz, the demonstrators are also driven by other issues. Some worry about women’s rights, given the new power in the government of the Ultra-Orthodox sect of Judaism, the adherents of which believe in gender segregation. Some worry about the security of Israel’s Jews at a time when the far right is deliberately provoking tensions. Two Israelis were killed at the hamlet of Huwara on the Palestinian West Bank, and a moment of silence was held for them. Other Israeli protesters recognized the brutality of the government toward Palestinians, pointing to the branding of one young man’s face with the Star of David by police.
The macabre incident took place in the middle of last week, when 16 Israeli policemen went to the home of a young Palestinian man in the Shuafat refugee camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem to arrest him. They maintain that he refused to go quietly, and they were constrained to use force against him. His attorney said when he was arraigned on Thursday that every bit of his body was black and blue from the beating the 16 policemen gave him, and that at one point they held him down and branded his cheek with the Star of David, which has been made a symbol for Israel. The police tried to explain this brand away as being from a policeman’s boot.
At Saturday’s demonstration in Tel Aviv, protest leader Shikma Bressler denounced the extremist ideology of “Kahanism,” insisting that it was all along at the core of the ruling right wing Likud Party. “As a result,” she said, “we are witnessing a breaching of all the dams… Jews stamped a Star of David on the face of a Palestinian detainee. Shame.”
As for the plight of Israeli women, it is dire, as can be seen from the country’s rankings. On women’s political power, it has fallen from 61st among 146 countries in the world in 2022 according to the World Economic Forum to 96th this year. Some educational courses are being segregated by gender to accommodate Ultra-Orthodox men, who won’t sit in a room with unrelated women. This accommodation has been permitted by the country’s High Court, whereas in other instances it has ruled in favor of equal rights for women and men. The current extremist government is hoping to increase the power of rabbinical courts, which are all male and rule in accordance with Jewish religious law, the halakha. Divorce is already in the hands of the rabbinical courts, and as a result, only men can initiate a divorce in Israel, not women.
In one incident this week, teen girls were ordered to “cover up” and sit in the back of a municipal bus, because some Ultra-Orthodox men were passengers. The bus driver accused the girls of “feeling comfortable being naked” and said, “You need to understand this, this is the Jewish state.”
Haaretz writes that a mother of one of the girls, Galit Alush Reuven, a member of the women’s protest group Bonot Alternativa, gave a speech at the demonstration, saying, “misogyny, darkness, racism, coercion – everything erupts under the auspices of the coup that gives free rein to dangerous forces.”
Many Israeli women believe that without the check of the country’s Supreme Court, the government will increasingly make women second-class citizens and defer to Ultra-Orthodox politicians.
Meanwhile, Palestinian-Israelis, some 20% of the population of Israel, are planning demonstrations for Monday against the decision of Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich to divert hundreds of millions of dollars in spending from the Palestinian-Israeli towns to which it had been dedicated to illegal Israeli squatter-settlements on the Palestinian West Bank. Palestinian-Israelis had not joined the protest movement in large numbers because they viewed the Israeli High Court as an internal Jewish matter and had sometimes been disappointed in its rulings. But now the extremist government is impelling even this community to protest.