Mass protests in Israel as judicial reforms approved in first reading
Jerusalem, Feb 13 (EFE).- Tens of thousands of people protested outside the Israeli parliament on Monday against controversial judicial reforms critics say will undermine the country’s democracy.
Local media reported that over 70,000 people flooded the streets of Jerusalem to protest the proposals that opponents of the new right-wing government say would curb the influence of Israel’s top court and give more power to politicians to appoint judges.
Carrying banners and waving Israeli flags, protesters rallied in front of the Knesset chanting “Democracy!”, with many traveling from different parts of the country.
Monday’s demonstration was the first mass protest in Jerusalem after six weeks of large demonstrations in Tel Aviv.
Following a heated debate, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Commission approved two of the bills proposed in reforms that seek to change the composition of the judge selection committee and would restrict the Supreme Court from reviewing and changing basic laws.
Monday’s Commission got off to a rowdy start with several opposition lawmakers forcibly evicted from the session.
The approval of the first reading is the first step in passing the controversial reforms which will now have to be approved by the Knesset plenum before returning to the commission for a second and third reading before being passed into law.
A key element of the judicial reforms would give the coalition government, led by right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hardline religious and far-right allies, five of the nine seats on the Judicial Selection Committee, with just a simple majority needed to appoint judges for all Israeli courts.
Justice minister Yariv Levin’s plans also include a clause that would allow a simple parliamentary majority to overturn a Supreme Court ruling.
The Supreme Court currently has powers to overthrow regulations that it considers contrary to basic Israeli law. Opponents of the reforms say the new bill would erode Israel’s separation of powers and weaken the foundations of the country’s democracy.
Netanyahu’s reforms have polarized Israeli society and sparked the largest protests in years.
Many businesses and Israel’s burgeoning tech sector have backed the protests, allowing workers to participate in strikes, according to local media, amid fears there will be a capital flight of foreign investors if the reforms are passed.
Former prime minister and current leader of the opposition Yair Lapid was at the protest in front of the Knesset, where he warned that the new government “wants to turn the State of Israel into a dark dictatorship.”
“We will not remain silent while they destroy the most valuable thing we have,” Lapid told the crowd.
Former defense minister Benny Gantz was also in attendance, stressing that “these are decisive days for Israeli democracy.”
“We are not prepared for the politicization of the judicial system, this is what protects citizens and their civil rights. We must not allow it to be damaged in any way”, Gantz concluded.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Sunday called for the reforms to be delayed, and urged dialogue to seek a “broad consensus” among different sectors of society.
“We are on the verge of a social and constitutional collapse,” he warned in a televised address, adding that a huge number of Israelis “see this reform as a substantial threat” to the Jewish state’s democracy.EFE