Conflicts & War

Attack on judicial independence spurs mass protest in Israel

By Pablo Duer

Tel Aviv, Jan 14 (EFE).- More than 70,000 people were on the streets here Saturday to protest the plans of Israel’s new right-wing government to limit the authority of the Supreme Court and give politicians the biggest say in choosing judges.

Despite intense winter rains, people of all ages and from every corner of the country packed Tel Aviv’s Habima Square to listen to speeches denouncing the proposal from the government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Many carried signs alluding to Netanyahu’s ongoing trial on charges of bribe-taking, fraud and breach of trust. Critics have suggested that one motive behind the proposed judicial overhaul is finding a way to halt the prosecution of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

While police had warned of the possibility of disturbances, the demonstration in Tel Aviv unfolded peacefully.

“I’m a concerned citizen, concerned about the juridical regime in Israel, and I fear that a government directed by one person who is dealing with many criminal cases undertakes a massive reform that will modify the essence of the Israeli juridical regime,” Wilhelm Alter told EFE.

Another protester, Dorit Volach, said she is “worried about the future of the country and the anti-democratic processes it is going through.”

Netanyahu, who governed Israel from 1996-1999 and again from 2009-2021, now heads the most right-wing government in the country’s history.

At the heart of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s initiative is a provision that would allow a simple majority of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to annul Supreme Court rulings.

Netanyahu’s coalition holds an absolute majority in the Knesset.

Levin also wants to revamp the Judicial Designation Committee by filling most of the seats with lawmakers from the ruling coalition. Until now, the panel has been a non-partisan body comprising attorneys.

Opposition to the reform has grown since last Saturday’s march in Tel Aviv by around 12,000 people.

“This is a plan to crush the justice system. It is designed to deal a fatal blow to the independence of the judiciary and silence it,” Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said in a speech delivered Thursday.

Among the speakers at Saturday’s event was former Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia, who described the current crisis as “a fateful moment of decision for the moral future of Israel.”

“We are at the start of a new era in which democracy has a new definition: not a value-based democracy but a fractured democracy leaning entirely on ‘the will of the voter,’ that no longer gives any weight to other democratic principles,” she said. EFE pd/dr

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