Tens of thousands protested in major Israeli cities Saturday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform proposals. Organizers accused him of undermining democracy just weeks following his reelection.
Bestriding a religious-nationalist coalition with a solid parliamentary majority, Netanyahu, now in his sixth term, wants to rein in the Supreme Court in what he has described as a restoration of the balance of the three branches of government.
Critics claim that the reforms proposed would reduce judicial independence and foster corruption. They also threaten minority rights. The country’s chief justice at the Supreme Court and its attorney-general are among those who oppose the proposed reforms.
President Isaac Herzog asked polarised politicians “lower temperatures” for the discussions. Organizers of the protests, which were held in the cold winter rain, sought to create a sense of unity.
Benny Gantz (centreist ex-defense Minister) said that he took an Israeli flag and an umbrella to the Tel Aviv rally, but was not allowed to speak.
Placard reading “We are Preserving our Shared Home” was displayed by one protestor. Another protestor said Netanyahu was guilty of a “legal coup”.
Israeli media reported that the total number of protestors was around 80,000.
In defiance of Netanyahu’s far-right allies, a few Palestinian flags were seen on social media. Kan TV heard from Itamar Bengvir of the National Security Ministry, that he requested the flags be removed, but was waiting for the attorney general’s advice before ordering any police crackdown.
Netanyahu, 73 years old, indicated flexibility Friday on the reform plan and said it would be “with careful consideration while listening to all positions.”
Public opinion on the reforms has diverged according to polls. Last week, Channel 13 TV found that 53% were against changing the structure of court appointments. 35% supported it. Channel 14 TV found that 61% were in favor and 35% were opposed to the change.
Critics say the Supreme Court is too broad and not representative of the electorate. The court’s supporters call it a way to bring equilibrium into a fractured society.
Tens of thousands were present at the demonstrations tonight. Millions turned out in the elections held here two-and-a-half months ago,” tweeted Miki Zhar, a senior Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party member.
We promised people to change. Governance was promised. Reforms were promised – we’ll keep our word.