On Saturday, the streets of several Israeli cities were once again occupied by crowds of protesters opposing the government’s announced justice reform. According to the organizers, about half a million people gathered across the country, of which about 200,000 were in Tel Aviv.
Protests have been ongoing in Israel for 10 weeks against a judicial reform that has sparked widespread accusations that it would give lawmakers virtually unchecked power. Critics also fear the reform will allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid conviction in a corruption trial.
Netanyahu and his allies argue that the reform is needed to redress the power imbalance between elected lawmakers and the Supreme Court. The goal of the reform is to increase the power of deputies and significantly limit the possibilities of the Supreme Court to annul laws and government decisions. With the reform, they want to provide the government with actual control over the appointment of supreme judges.
Netanyahu, who returned to the prime minister position for a sixth term in late December, says the demonstrations are aimed at toppling him. He is on trial in three cases of corruption, but he denies all criminal acts.
President Herzog against reform
Saturday’s protests were largely peaceful, although Reuters reported some injuries and arrests among protesters as police cracked down on attempts to block traffic.
According to Israeli media, the police temporarily detained a Haaretz journalist who allegedly called Netanyahu a dictator in a tweet and advised him to cancel a planned visit to Berlin.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently expressed concern about the planned “transformation of the rule of law” in Israel. Israeli President Izak Herzog also spoke out clearly against the planned reform, as it is repressive and undermines the country’s democratic foundations.
Nevertheless, the process of adopting the reform continues. Its key parts could be adopted by the Knesset in the last reading as early as next week, according to Israeli media.