Tens of thousands of Israelis braved heavy rains on Saturday to take part in the fifth week of protests against the judicial reform plans of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government.
The bill provides for the creation of a committee to review court appointments and gives Parliament the power to overrule decisions. Critics say the proposed reforms would undermine judicial independence, foster corruption, undermine minority rights and deprive Israel’s judicial system of the credibility that helps it avoid prosecutions of war crimes abroad. Among the opponents are the president of the Supreme Court and the attorney general of the country.
The judicial reform, which the government says is needed to curb judges’ overreach, has also drawn strong opposition from lawyers’ groups and raised concerns among business leaders, widening political divisions in the country.
For Netanyahu, however, the bill will restore Israeli confidence in the Supreme Court. Critics of the court, mostly on the right, accuse judges of increasingly invading the political sphere and overstepping their authority to pursue a left-wing agenda.
The prime minister says the protests are caused by the leftist opposition’s refusal to accept the results of last November’s election, which brought Netanyahu back to power and produced one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history.
Protesters say Israel’s democracy is at risk if the government succeeds in passing its plans, which tighten political control over judicial appointments and limit the Supreme Court’s powers to overturn government decisions and laws of parliament, the Knesset.
“I’m here tonight protesting the transition from democracy to autocracy in Israel,” said Dov Levenglick, 48, a software engineer, in Tel Aviv.
Hadar Segal, 35, was also protesting in the same city. “They want to destroy the justice system and Israeli democracy. We are here every week to fight this,” he said.
Opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid attended demonstrations in the coastal city of Haifa. “The protesters came to save the country and we came to protest with them,” he said.
At the end of January, Netanyahu dismissed one of his ministers, Aryeh Deri, complying with the Supreme Court’s decision amid a crisis with the Judiciary over the reform proposal. Deri had a previous conviction for tax fraud – he confessed to the crime last year , as part of a deal to escape prison.
One of the protests, which took place days before the dismissal, brought together 80,000 critics of the reform presented by the government. In a meeting with his ministers, Bibi –as the prime minister is known– said that the biggest popular manifestation is the elections and that, therefore, his management has legitimacy to move forward with the proposal.
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