Tens of thousands of Israeli protesters have demonstrated in Tel Aviv and other cities against proposed changes to the judicial system they say could mean a more authoritarian government.
Demonstrators have kept up the pressure with weekly rallies against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to power in December at the head of a coalition with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right allies.
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Israeli media estimated the turnout at Saturday’s protest in Tel Aviv – the 27th since the proposed changes were unveiled in January – at 150,000, ahead of a vote on Monday in parliament on a key provision of the proposed overhaul.
“We must act against what the Netanyahu government is doing to our country and to the Israeli dream,” historian Yuval Noah Harari told the rally.
“If the Netanyahu government does not stop, it will soon learn what happens when we get angry,” he said.
Police used water cannon to disperse some 100 demonstrators who blocked a main highway in the coastal city, the AFP news agency said.
The government argues that the judicial changes, which critics say would give politicians more power over the courts, are necessary to ensure a better balance of power.
Netanyahu renews his bid
The protests subsided a little since late March when Netanyahu, under pressure at home and abroad, suspended the plan for compromise talks with opposition parties meant to reach a broad agreement over judicial changes.
However, deeming the talks pointless last month, Netanyahu relaunched his government’s quest to control what it sees as an overreaching, left-leaning and elitist Supreme Court, causing the renewed protests. Netanyahu claims the new proposals are more moderate than the original.
Monday will see the first reading of a bill aimed at excluding the judiciary’s right to rule on the “reasonableness” of government decisions.
One of its potential effects would be on the appointment of ministers. In January, Netanyahu was forced to dismiss cabinet member Aryeh Deri after intervention by the Supreme Court over a previous tax evasion conviction.
Organisers have announced a day of protest for Tuesday.
The government’s drive to overhaul the judiciary has stirred fears for Israel’s democratic health and dented the economy, with the shekel falling more than 5 percent since it began.