Israelis packed city streets on Saturday in nationwide demonstrations now in their 10th week against plans by the hard-right government to curb the Supreme Court’s powers, which critics see as a threat to judicial independence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who says his aim is to balance out branches of government, wields a parliamentary majority along with his religious-nationalist coalition allies.
As the reforms head toward ratification the protests have escalated, resulting in 500,000 individuals packing the streets on Saturday according to rally organizers. If the estimates are true it would be the largest protest in Israeli history.
As a result of the tension, the shekel has slipped and some military reservists have threatened not to heed call-up orders. President Isaac Herzog has appealed for the overhaul to be postponed and dialogue held.
“It’s not a judicial reform. It’s a revolution that [is] making Israel go to full dictatorship and I want Israel to stay a democracy for my kids,” said Tamir Guytsabri, 58, among tens of thousands of demonstrators who gathered in central Tel Aviv.
The protests were mostly peaceful, though Reuters witnessed some injuries and arrests among protesters when police moved in against attempts to block traffic.
National police chief, Inspector-General Yaacov Shabtai, made a rare televised announcement in which he backed off from plans to reassign the head of Tel Aviv’s police, which some feared presaged plans to crack down harder on protests.
The now-deferred reassignment was part of a scheduled rotation, Shabtai said, adding that police would continue safeguarding demonstrations kept within legal boundaries and “will not yield to any political pressure on the matter”.
Netanyahu, who returned to office for a sixth term in late December, says the demonstrations are aimed at toppling him and are that the reforms, though not popular, are much needed.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters. Additions and edits for FISM News by Michael Cardinal.