Israel’s anti-government protest movement gained new momentum Saturday night as tens of thousands of people took to the streets of cities across the country to oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plan to change the judicial system.
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The grassroots movement has been holding protests for more than six months since Netanyahu’s government unveiled the renovation plan. But in recent weeks, the protests have shown signs of weakening.
Government plans to push the reforms next week in parliament, coupled with the firing of Tel Aviv’s police chief, who was accused of being overly sympathetic to the protesters, appear to have breathed new life into the demonstrations in Saturday.
About 150,000 people flocked to central Tel Aviv, with larger rallies in Jerusalem and other major cities. On Saturday, several people tried to block the main highway in Tel Aviv, but they were quickly cleared by the police. Clashes broke out, and police sprayed the crowd with water cannons.
Netanyahu’s allies have proposed a series of changes to Israel’s legal system aimed at undermining what they say is the excessive power of unelected judges. The proposed changes include giving Netanyahu’s allies control over the appointment of judges and the power to overturn court decisions they don’t support.
His opponents say the plan would destroy the country’s weak system of checks and balances and concentrate power in the hands of Netanyahu and his allies. They also say Netanyahu has a conflict of interest because he is on trial for corruption charges. Many segments of Israeli society, including military reserve officers, business leaders, LGBT and other minority groups, joined the protests.
A legislative committee led by a Netanyahu ally last week approved a bill that would prevent Israeli courts from examining the “reasonableness” of decisions made by elected officials. The legislature may hold a preliminary vote on the bill on Monday.
The “reasonability standard” was used by the Supreme Court earlier this year to nullify the appointment of a Netanyahu ally as interior minister because of a previous conviction for bribery and a 2021 plea deal for tax evasion. Critics say removing that standard would allow the government to pass arbitrary decisions and give it too much power.
Protesters also condemned the firing of Tel Aviv’s police chief, Ami Eshed, who said this week he was forced to resign because of political pressure to act violently against protesters. Eshed has often clashed with the hardline national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has demanded that the police take a stronger stance against months of anti-government protests.
Saturday’s protest was the latest in a series of demonstrations that, since January, have seen thousands of Israelis take to the streets.
Netanyahu halted the overhaul in March after mass protests erupted in the opposition, but announced last month that the plan would continue. Protests blocked roads, disrupted the country’s main airport and swarmed major cities.