More than 100,000 people gather in Tel Aviv for a third week to protest legal changes that could weaken Israel’s Supreme Court.
Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government’s plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system and weaken the Supreme Court.
Israeli media, citing police, said more than 100,000 people joined protests on Saturday.
The rally followed another demonstration last week that also drew tens of thousands of people in an initial challenge to Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist, ultra-Orthodox government – the most right-wing in Israel’s history. He says his judicial changes are necessary to limit the overreach of activist judges, but the plans have drawn fierce opposition from groups including lawyers and raised concerns among business leaders.
Protests against Israel’s government escalate each week as tens of thousands flock to Tel Aviv to condemn Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposed justice reforms 👇
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 22, 2023
Opponents say the changes threaten democratic checks and balances on ministers through the courts.
“They want to turn us into a dictatorship, they want to destroy democracy,” said Israeli Bar Association head Avi Chimi.
“They want to destroy the judicial authority, there is no democratic country without judicial authority.”
Netanyahu dismissed the protests, now in their third week, as a refusal by left-wing opponents to accept the results of last November’s election.
The Prime Minister, who is himself on trial for corruption, has pledged to pursue change.
The protesters, who carried Israeli flags and banners that read “Our children will not live in a dictatorship”, say the future of Israeli democracy hangs in the balance if the government succeeds in pushing through the plans as they would tighten political control over judicial appointments and limit the powers of the Supreme Court to overrule government decisions or Knesset laws.
As well as threatening the independence of judges and weakening government and parliamentary oversight, they say these plans will undermine minority rights and open the door to more corruption.
“All generations are affected. This is no joke,” said Lior Student, a protester. “It’s a complete redefinition of democracy.”
“This is a protest to defend the country,” said opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid, who joined the protest. “People came here today to protect their democracy.”
Other demonstrations took place in the cities of Jerusalem, Haifa and Beer Sheva.
The rallies came days after the Supreme Court ordered Netanyahu to sack Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads the religious party Shas, following a recent tax conviction.
The new government, which took office this month, is an alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud party and a group of small far-right religious and nationalist parties that say they have a mandate for sweeping change.
Likud politicians have long accused the Supreme Court of being dominated by leftist judges who they say encroach on areas outside their authority for political reasons.
Defenders of the court say it plays a vital role in holding the government to account in a country that has no formal constitution.
A survey released by the Israel Democracy Institute last week showed that trust in the Supreme Court was significantly higher among Israelis on the left than among those on the right, but there was no general support for weakening the powers of the Court.