Tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated in three major cities on Saturday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform plans, with organisers accusing him of undermining democratic rule weeks after his reelection.
Bestriding a religious-nationalist coalition with a solid parliamentary majority, Netanyahu, now in his sixth term, wants to rein in the Supreme Court in what he has described as a restoration of the balance of the three branches of government.
Critics say the proposed reforms would cripple judicial independence, foster corruption, set back minority rights and deprive Israeli courts’ system of credibility that helps fend off war crimes allegations abroad. Among those opposed are the Supreme Court chief justice and the country’s attorney-general.
From today's protest of 80,000 in Israel. Thank you Uri Schneider for sharing. pic.twitter.com/QITv9eOM1G
— Americans for Peace Now (@PeaceNowUS) January 14, 2023
After President Isaac Herzog appealed to polarised politicians to “lower the temperatures” of the debates, organisers of the demonstrations – held under chilly winter rain – sought to strike a note of national unity.
“Take an Israeli flag in one hand, an umbrella in the other, and come out to protect democracy and law in the State of Israel,” said centrist ex-defence minister Benny Gantz, who attended the Tel Aviv rally but, like other opposition figures, was not due to address it.
Israeli media put the number in attendance at some 80,000, with thousands more at protests in Jerusalem and Haifa.
Police now says that 80k showed up in Tel Aviv. There is additional demonstration in Haifa. (Much smaller)
Credit: @MovGov pic.twitter.com/O41yF6TQ0w
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) January 14, 2023
Social media footage showed a small number of Palestinian flags on display, in defiance of Netanyahu’s far-right allies. One of these, National Security Ministry Itamar Ben-Gvir, told Kan TV he wanted such flags removed but was awaiting the opinion of the attorney-general before ordering any crackdown by police.
The 73-year-old Netanyahu on Friday signalled flexibility on the reform plan, saying it would be implemented “with careful consideration while hearing all of the positions”.
Polls have diverged on public views of the reforms. Channel 13 TV last week found 53 percent of Israelis were opposed to changing the court appointments’ structure while 35 percent were in support. But Channel 14 TV on Thursday found 61 percent in favour and 35 percent opposed.
Critics of the Supreme Court say it is overreaching and unrepresentative of the electorate. Its proponents call the court a means of bringing equilibrium to a fractious society.