Tens of thousands of Israelis protest Netanyahu’s legal reforms | Protests News

Tens of thousands of Israelis protest Netanyahu’s legal reforms | Protests News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, has made reforming the country’s legal system a central part of his agenda.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have gathered in three cities to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul the country’s legal system and weaken the Supreme Court.

Saturday’s protests in the cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa present an early challenge to Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has ordered police to crack down if protesters block roads or display Palestinian flags.

Israeli media, citing police, said the crowd in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square swelled to at least 80,000 people, despite cool, rainy weather.

The protesters, many covered by tents, carried Israeli flags and signs reading “Criminal Government”, “End of Democracy” and other slogans.

Social media footage showed a small number of Palestinian flags on display, in defiance of Ben-Gvir’s calls.

“They are trying to destroy the checks and balances of Israeli democracy. This will not work,” said Asaf Steinberg, a protester from the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya. “And we will fight until the last minute to save Israeli democracy.”

Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, has made overhauling the country’s legal system a central part of his agenda.

In office for just over two weeks, his right-wing government has launched proposals to weaken the Supreme Court by giving parliament the power to overturn court decisions with a simple majority vote. He also wants to give parliament control over the appointment of judges and reduce the independence of legal advisers.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition and proposed judicial reforms to reduce the powers of the Supreme Court [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Netanyahu’s justice minister says unelected judges have too much power.

But opponents of the plans say the proposed changes will undermine Israeli democracy. Israeli opposition leaders, former attorneys general and the president of Israel’s Supreme Court have all spoken out against the plan.

The legal changes could help Netanyahu avoid a corruption conviction or even eliminate his trial altogether. Since he was indicted in 2019, Netanyahu has said the justice system is biased against him.

The new government has also announced intentions to pursue a policy of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and to carry out social reforms that have worried members and supporters of the LGBTQ community.

Reporting from the rally in Tel Aviv, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said protesters were concerned that the far-right government was threatening democracy in Israel.

“This is an anti-government protest. They are concerned about taking back the powers of the Supreme Court – a very important system of checks and balances that has been in place for decades,” he said.

“There is a lot of anger here against Benjamin Netanyahu, who they say is a criminal. There are many signs here that say he is fighting a court case and should not be prime minister of Israel. They are also very concerned about the rights of minorities within Israel, especially when it comes to gay rights. They’re afraid that those things might backfire.”

Thousands of people also turned out for rallies in Jerusalem and Haifa.

No major unrest was reported, although Israeli media said small crowds clashed with police as they tried to block a highway in Tel Aviv.

The police have strengthened their presence before the march. Israeli media quoted police as saying officers had been instructed to be “very sensitive” and allow the protest to proceed peacefully. But they also promised a tough response to any vandalism or violent behavior.

Polls have changed public views on the reforms. Channel 13 TV last week found that 53 percent of Israelis were against changing the structure of court appointments, while 35 percent were in support. But Channel 14 TV on Thursday found 61 percent in favor and 35 percent against.

“Tens of thousands of people were at the demonstrations tonight. In the elections held here two and a half months ago, millions turned out,” tweeted Miki Zohar, a senior lawmaker in Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party.

“We promised the people change, we promised governance, we promised reform – and we will do it well,” he added.

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