Half a million Israelis took to the streets in the tenth consecutive week of protests against plans by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the country’s justice system, organizers said.
Israel has a population of just over 9 million, so if organizers’ estimates are correct, around 5% of Israelis have come out to voice their opposition to the proposed reforms.
Nearly half of the protesters – around 240,000 – gathered in Tel Aviv, organizers said. In Jerusalem, several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the house of President Isaac Herzog. They carried Israeli flags and chanted slogans including “Israel will not be a dictatorship”.
On Thursday, Herzog — whose role is largely ceremonial — urged the Netanyahu government to take the judicial overhaul legislation off the table.
Protesters and critics of Netanyahu’s plan say it would weaken the country’s courts and erode the ability of the judiciary to check the power of the country’s other branches of government.
The package of laws would give Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, the power to overrule 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, legal experts and politicians. It would remove the power and independence of legal advisers from government ministries, and take away the power of the courts to invalidate “unreasonable” government appointments, as the High Court did in January, forcing Netanyahu to sack the minister of justice. Interior and Health, Aryeh Deri.
Critics accuse Netanyahu of pushing legislation in order to get out of the corruption trials he currently faces. Netanyahu denies this, saying the trials are collapsing on their own and changes are needed after judicial overruling 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 suggested laws are passed, Israel will no longer be a democracy.”
About two in three Israelis (66%) believe the Supreme Court should have the power to strike down laws inconsistent with Israel’s Basic Laws, and about the same proportion (63%) say they support the current appointment system judges, according to a poll last month for the Israel Democracy Institute.
“The only thing this government cares about is crushing Israeli democracy,” said opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid.