Thousands rally in support of Israel’s divisive judicial overhaul

Planned legislation to strip top court of its powers has fuelled weeks of mass protests by those who oppose it.

Israeli right-wing protesters demonstrate in support of a controversial plan to curb the powers of the judiciary. They are waving Israeli flags.
The right-wing protesters carried Israeli flags as they gathered outside parliament [Ohad Zwigenberg/AP Photo]

Tens of thousands of right-wing Israelis have taken to the streets of Jerusalem to show their support for controversial legislation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which would see the country’s highest court stripped of much of its power.

Israelis remain polarised over the planned legislation that the government says is necessary to rein in a judiciary that wields too much power but that critics say removes a crucial check on those in power.

Crowds of people, many carrying Israel’s blue and white national flag, which has also been used as a symbol of the protests against the planned legislation, could be seen outside Israel’s parliament.

Some stomped on a carpet displaying the faces of Israel’s Supreme Court president and former attorney general. Many demonstrators were wearing pins and holding flags supporting far-right Israeli political parties.

“The nation demands judicial reform,” the crowds chanted.

Netanyahu last month delayed the overhaul after 16 weeks of mass anti-government protests intensified, bringing Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to a standstill and threatening to paralyse the economy.

Thursday’s protests marked a rare show of public support for the plan.

“To all my friends who are sitting here, see how much power we have,” far-right legislator and Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told the crowd. “They have the media and they have tycoons who will fund the protests, but we have the nation.”

“We will fix what needs to be fixed,” Smotrich said.

“The nation demands a judicial reform,” the crowd chanted in response. Israeli media estimated about 80,000 people had gathered in Jerusalem for Thursday’s rally, many brought in from other parts of the country.

The plan would give Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, and his far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners the final say in appointing the nation’s judges.

It would also give parliament, which is controlled by his allies, authority to overturn Supreme Court decisions and limit the court’s ability to review laws.

Opponents say the plan is a power grab that would weaken Israel’s democracy and its system of checks and balances, concentrating authority in the hands of the prime minister and his hardline allies.

The protests have drawn support from secular and liberal Israelis, pilots and officers in elite military reserve units, high-tech business leaders and former officials.

They also say that Netanyahu has a conflict of interest in trying to reshape the nation’s legal system at a time when he is on trial.

Many in Israeli society, including President Isaac Herzog whose role is largely ceremonial, have been calling for the opposing sides to reach a compromise and have asked the coalition to tone down its initial proposals.

The mood at the protest, however, was defiant.

“They haven’t come to terms with the fact that we won,” Israel’s far-right security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, told the crowd.

“We will not break, we will not give in,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies