Israeli protesters keep pressure on Netanyahu over judicial overhaul

Protesters take to streets for a 30th week to demand that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government halt its judicial overhaul plan.

People take part in a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Protesters beating drums and blaring horns take to the streets of the capital Tel Aviv [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Tens of thousands of flag-waving Israelis have staged new nationwide protests days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed through a highly-contested law that limited some Supreme Court powers.

Protesters beating drums and blaring horns took to the streets in cities including northern Galilee and central Tel Aviv for the 30th consecutive week on Saturday, in a show of opposition towards the judicial overhaul.

The first part of Netanyahu’s reform package, which has become known as the “reasonableness clause” bill, was ratified by the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – on Monday sparking an unprecedented crisis and opening up a deep social divide.

Political watchdog groups have appealed to the Supreme Court to strike down Monday’s bill, which removes the high court’s authority to void what it deems “unreasonable” decisions by government.

The court said it would hear arguments in September, setting the scene for a constitutional showdown.

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Tel Aviv, said protests on Saturday had been organised across 150 towns and cities “so people don’t necessarily have to converge to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem”.

Despite the lower turnout in the capital compared to earlier this week, Smith said people were determined to make their opposition known. “Now [they] realise that the government is pressing ahead with its reform,” he said.

Protestors lift a banner as they march against the Israeli government's judicial overhaul plan
Critics say Netanyahu is threatening Israel’s democratic principles and independence of the courts [Jack Guez/AFP]

Protesters have been keeping up the pressure on the government to prevent additional plans for reform that could be pushed forward after parliament’s summer recess.

They include major changes to laws shaping the balance of power between the Knesset and the High Court of Justice, splitting the attorney general’s role and limiting the ability to petition against government actions.

Critics have said Netanyahu is threatening Israel’s democratic principles and independence of the courts, possibly with an eye to a corruption case he is facing.

One proposed reform would allow the government to appoint more members to a committee that oversees appointees to the Supreme Court, giving Netanyahu the power to pack the court with more friendly judges.

The prime minister has denied the claims, as well as the charges against him. He says the new law was one of several needed to balance government branches.

Should the government succeed in its plans, some former officials such as one-time Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri could be reinstated by the prime minister despite criminal convictions.

After his stunning success in the 2022 elections, Netanyahu formed a coalition with several far-right parties that have a long history of using incendiary rhetoric against Palestinians, oppose Palestinian statehood and support extending Israeli control over the occupied West Bank.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war and has since pursued a programme of expanding illegal, Jewish-only settlements in the territory. The Palestinians want the West Bank to form part of a future state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Critics have said that the Israeli government’s policies in the occupied West Bank could cause a security escalation there.

Last year was the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank since the United Nations began keeping track of fatalities in 2005, with 150 people killed, including 33 minors. Officials have warned that 2023 was likely to see a higher number of fatalities.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies