Conflicts & War

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis join anti-government protests

Jerusalem, Mar 4 (EFE).- As many as 400,000 people, according to organizers, took to the streets of Israel’s major cities on Saturday in a ninth week of protests against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to limit the authority of the Supreme Court and give lawmakers full control over judicial appointments.

In Tel Aviv, the country’s largest city, an estimated 160,000 people gathered to denounce the bill put forward by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, while tens of thousands demonstrated in Jerusalem, Haifa and Netanya, among other population centers.

Despite widespread opposition and calls for dialogue from senior figures, the most right-wing government in Israel’s history seems determined to impose its plan.

The initiative would allow a simple majority of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to annul Supreme Court rulings, and would eliminate the tribunal’s power to bar individuals with criminal records from holding high office.

The high court used that authority in January to force the resignation of a Cabinet minister with past convictions for financial crimes.

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

At present, the Supreme Court can strike down legislation that contravenes Basic Laws, measures that have the status of constitutional articles.

Besides curbing the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, Levin’s bill would replace the current system of choosing judges, which includes input from legal professionals, with one entirely in the hands of politicians.

In recent days, some protesters have attempted to escalate by blocking roads, leading to clashes with police.

An attempt Saturday by a group of demonstrators to occupy the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv was repulsed by mounted police and water cannon.

At least four people were arrested.

Netanyahu’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has denounced the protesters as “anarchists” and urged police to take a harder line with demonstrators.

Detractors, including current and former senior jurists, business leaders and even past advisers to Netanyahu, see the proposed judicial overhaul as an attack on the separation of powers and on the fundamental tenets of democracy.

Some also suggest that Netanyahu, now in his third stint as prime minister, hopes to use the expanded powers over the judiciary to put a stop to his own trial on corruption charges. EFE jma/dr

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