Israelis protest against judicial reforms before new parliament

Parliament to hold an opening session on Monday after recess as backers and detractors of the reform seek to keep up the pressure.

Israel protest
People take part in a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his nationalist coalition government's judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Israel [Corinna Kern/Reuters]

Thousands of Israelis have gathered in central Tel Aviv for the latest weekly protest against the government’s judicial reform plans just days before legislators return for a new parliament session.

Opponents of the judicial reform bill have kept up demonstrations in the commercial hub and across the country since January, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu putting the controversial reform programme on ice a month ago.

“History has its eyes on you,” read a placard held aloft on Saturday at the rally in Tel Aviv, where demonstrators lit flares and waved national flags in the latest show of political discontent.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoon, reporting from the site of the protest, said it appeared that the protests had maintained momentum since Netanyahu paused the plans.

“This is the fourth month of weekly protests. Everyone we’ve spoken to in Tel Aviv says they are going to continue to come out because they are so opposed to this judicial overhaul plan,” he said.

Israeli society has been deeply split over the proposed legislation, which seeks to weaken the Supreme Court and hand politicians greater influence over the selection of judges.

Israel protest
An aerial view shows protesters holding a sign depicting handmaidens from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ with the words ‘Never Surrender’ as they demonstrate against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his nationalist coalition government’s judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv [Ilan Rosenberg/Israel]

Netanyahu’s right-wing administration has argued the proposals are necessary to rebalance power between the judiciary and elected officials, while opponents said the changes represent a threat to democracy.

The weekly rallies have repeatedly drawn tens of thousands onto the streets of Tel Aviv. A turnout figure for Saturday was not immediately available.

The protesters gathered against the backdrop of cross-party talks hosted by President Isaac Herzog this month, which have sought to reach a compromise on the reform package.

The negotiations were launched after Netanyahu announced a halt to the legislative process on March 27 “out of a desire to prevent a rift in the nation”, in the face of mass protests and a general strike.

However, the opposition has remained sceptical of the prime minister’s intentions and no compromise has been reached.

Hagar Kaminer, a student protester at the rally in Tel Aviv, told Al Jazeera she was worried that the “fabric of Israeli democracy is being endangered.”

“It’s important that we’re here protesting for the 17th week in a row because, in the negotiations that are going on currently, there have been a lot of statements that make us very worried that there won’t be a real and substantial negotiation. We want to send out the message that we won’t accept this,” she said.

With parliament due to hold an opening session on Monday after a recess, both backers of the reform and its detractors have sought to keep up the pressure on politicians.

The architect of the reform, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, addressed thousands of supporters who rallied in Jerusalem on Thursday.

The pro-reform protest was also attended by far-right Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich, who promised that the government will not “give up” on the package.

The cabinet ministers are part of a coalition of right-wing, extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties which took office in late December.

Source: AFP, Al Jazeera and news agencies