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‘We will not give up’ on judicial changes, right-wing protesters at Israel’s largest pro-reform rally are told

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The right-wing protest that took some 200,000 people to Jerusalem’s streets on Thursday night to demonstrate in favor of the government’s judicial overhaul felt bizarrely familiar.

In many ways, it mimicked the anti-government protests that it meant to oppose: Like the demonstrations that have filled Tel Aviv’s streets every week this year, this too featured lots of Israeli flags, chants to the tune of “Seven Nation Army” and signs declaring that the rally represents the majority of the country.

And like the protests in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem’s mass gathering felt driven by grievance: a sense that the country the rally-goers had fought for — the country they thought they had — was being taken away from them.

“There are those who have decided that they can make decisions for me, even though they have no right to decide for me,” said Michal Verzberger, who came from the central town of Mazkeret Batya with most of her family to protest in favor of the reforms. Verzberger was echoing a central message of Thursday’s protest: that the right won the recent elections, and therefore had every right to pass its desired judicial overhaul.

“The nation decided it wanted reform, and there are some who are protesting the reform, and they’re deciding in our place that there won’t be a reform,” she said. “The minority is deciding what is good for the majority.”

The idea that a loud minority is unjustly obstructing the will of the electorate inspired Thursday’s protest, which filled an artery of central Jerusalem with a largely Orthodox, religious Zionist crowd. The judicial overhaul would sap the Israeli Supreme Court of much of its power, and since it was proposed at the beginning of the year, hundreds of thousands have filled the streets — in Tel Aviv and elsewhere — weekly to decry the proposal as a danger to democracy.

Right-wing Israelis attend a rally in support of the government’s planned judicial overhaul in Jerusalem, April 27, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Those protests, and associated actions, led Israel’s right-wing government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to pause the reforms for a month — a period that ends in several days. The governing coalition and opposition are now negotiating over the legislation, a process that, if successful, will by definition soften the reforms at least a little.

Thursday’s rally was a show of force that aimed to strengthen the position of the government majority, several protesters said. One of the crowd’s chants was “64 seats” — the majority the right-wing holds in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. One homemade sign read, “64 > 56.”

The government ministers who spoke at the rally did not seem interested in half-measures. They promised that despite the delays, the substance of the reform would become law.

“Listen well, because this is my promise: We will not give up,” said Bezalal Smotrich, the far-right finance minister. “We won’t give up on making Israel a better place to live. We won’t give up on the Jewish state. … We’re fixing what needs to be fixed, and promising a better state of Israel for us and for the coming generations. Most of the nation agrees that the judicial reform is the right and necessary thing to do for the state of Israel, and I say again: We will not give up.”

Who is, in fact, in the majority on this issue is a more complicated question than it seems. Israel’s electorate has had a right-wing majority for years, both according to polls and election results. While the ideological bent of coalitions has varied, the past 22 years have seen only several months — last year — with a prime minister who didn’t build his career in conservative politics.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a rally in support of the government’s planned judicial overhaul outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 27, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

But polls also show that a majority of the country opposes the court reform itself, which has been pushed through the Knesset without any support from opposition parties or even engagement with their concerns. The central motivation of the anti-overhaul protests has been the importance of defending democracy and an independent court system.

That idea vexed Thursday’s protesters. “We won’t give up on Israeli democracy, and no one will steal that word from us,” Smotrich said. Yariv Levin, the justice minister and architect of the judicial overhaul, said, “Two million Israelis, half a year a year ago, voted in the true referendum: the elections. They voted for judicial reform.”

Protesters who spoke to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency said they supported the overhaul’s provisions, which include giving the governing coalition a large measure of control over the selection of judges and allowing the Knesset to override most Supreme Court decisions with a bare majority. Observers across the political spectrum and around the globe have cautioned that those changes could damage Israel’s democratic character.

But protesters said that, rather than destroy democracy, the overhaul would restore balance to Israel’s branches of government, curbing an overly activist court.

“I want a real democracy in the state of Israel,” said Chanan Fine, a resident of the central city of Modiin. “In a democracy there are three branches that have balance between them, and what happened is that the judicial branch has taken for itself the powers of the legislative branch and the executive branch.”

He added, “The government needs to have the ability to determine policy and to pass laws, and if there’s a policy that contradicts the laws of the state then the Supreme Court needs to get involved,” but less often than it does now, he explained.

Under the proposed legislation, the governing coalition would not have to respect the determination of the Supreme Court.

The message of the protests wasn’t the only thing that separated it from the Tel Aviv demonstrations, which largely draw secular Israelis. While few haredi Israelis attended the event — a leading haredi newspaper instructed its readers not to go, even as it expressed support for the cause — religious ritual pervaded the demonstration. Men gathered in prayer quorums before sunset on the way to the protest, and rallygoers recited the Shema and traditional prayers for salvation en masse. Most of the men wore kippahs, and most of the women wore long skirts.

Some signs at the Tel Aviv rallies, in addition to opposing the overhaul, advocate for LGBTQ rights or Israeli-Palestinian peace. Signs and shirts at the Jerusalem rally instead trumpeted  settlements in the West Bank and the belief that the late rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement is the messiah.

One thing that the two rallies had in common: a preponderance of Israeli flags, something that has been particularly noted at the anti-overhaul demonstrations.

“It’s a desecration of our symbol,” Chen Avital, a protester from the West Bank settlement of Shilo, said about the anti-government protesters’ adoption of the flag. “They took it for a certain side that isn’t supported by the whole country, and they changed it to their side over the past few months. … It’s a flag that represents all of us, and they took it for their own side.”


The post ‘We will not give up’ on judicial changes, right-wing protesters at Israel’s largest pro-reform rally are told appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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A number of speakers addressed the crowd of 800, including Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Congregation; Members of Parliament Ben Carr & Marty Morantz; Yolanda Papini-Pollock of Winnipeg Friends of Israel; Paula McPherson, former Brock Corydon teacher; and Gustavo Zentner, President of the Jewish Federation.

Ben Carr

Click here to watch Ben Carr’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crfREGNRKfg

Marty Morantz

Click here to watch a video of Marty Morantz’s remarks: https://studio.youtube.com/video/zHzC-iaqivg/ed

Gustavo Zentner

Click here to watch a video of Gustavo Zentner’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3M_cCYuLgs

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