Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of three Israeli cities to oppose Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system and weaken the Supreme Court.
Crowds in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square grew to at least 80,000, according to media citing police, with many waving Israeli flags and signs saying ‘criminal government’, ‘end of democracy’ and other slogans.
“They are trying to destroy the checks and balances of Israeli democracy,” said protester Asaf Steinberg. “And we will fight until the very last minute to save Israeli democracy.”
A small number of people were reportedly involved in scuffles with police as they tried to block a Tel Aviv highway, but otherwise there were no major disturbances.
Smaller protests also took place Saturday night in Jerusalem and Haifa.
Israeli media quoted police as saying officers were instructed to be “very sensitive” and to allow protests to proceed peacefully. But they also promised a firm response to any vandalism or violent behavior.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, has made overhauling the country’s judicial system a centerpiece of his agenda.
In office for just over two weeks, his new government, made up of ultra-Orthodox and far-right nationalist parties, has launched proposals to weaken the Supreme Court by giving parliament the power to overturn court decisions by a simple majority vote.
He also wants to give parliament control over the appointment of judges and reduce the independence of legal advisers.
Netanyahu’s justice minister says unelected judges have too much power, but opponents of the plans say the proposed changes will strip the judiciary of its independence and undermine Israeli democracy.
Israeli opposition leaders, former attorneys general and the Chief Justice of Israel have all spoken out against the plan.
The legal changes could help Mr. Netanyahu evade a conviction or even wipe out his trial altogether. Since his indictment in 2019, Netanyahu has said the justice system is biased against him.
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Asked about the protests, Miki Zohar, a senior politician in Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, said: “Tens of thousands of people took part in the protests tonight. In the elections held here two and a half months ago, millions of people took part.
“We promised the people change, we promised governance, we promised reform – and we will deliver.”