Half a million Israelis took to the streets in the tenth straight week of protests against plans by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the country’s justice system, organizers claimed.
Israel has a population of just over 9 million, so if organizers’ estimates are correct, about 5% of Israelis came out to voice their opposition to the proposed reforms.
Nearly half of the protesters — about 240,000 — gathered in Tel Aviv, organizers said. In Jerusalem, several hundred demonstrators gathered in front of President Isaac Herzog’s home. They carried Israeli flags and chanted slogans, including “Israel will not become a dictatorship”.
On Thursday, Herzog — whose role is largely ceremonial — urged Netanyahu’s government to pull the judicial review legislation off the table.
Protesters and critics of Netanyahu’s plan say it would weaken the country’s courts and erode the judiciary’s ability to check the power of the country’s other government departments.
The package of legislation would give Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions by a simple majority. It would also give the government the power to appoint judges, which currently rests with a committee made up of judges, lawyers and politicians. It would take away the power and independence of the ministries’ legal advisers and take away the power of the courts to invalidate “unreasonable” government appointments, as the Supreme Court did in January, forcing Netanyahu to impeach Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri. fire.
Critics accuse Netanyahu of pushing through legislation to get under the corruption trials he is currently facing. Netanyahu denies that, saying the trials collapse on their own and that the changes are necessary after judicial scrutiny by unelected judges.
Israel does not have a written constitution, but a set of so-called basic laws.
“We’re done being polite,” said Shikma Bressler, an Israeli protest leader. “If the proposed laws are passed, Israel will no longer be a democracy.”
About two in three (66%) Israelis believe the Supreme Court should have the power to overturn laws that are incompatible with Israel’s basic laws, and about the same percentage (63%) say they support the current system of appointing judges, according to a poll last month for the Israel Democracy Institute.
“All this government cares about is destroying Israeli democracy,” said opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid.