April 20, 2024

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Israeli demonstrators organize a “day of unrest” against controversial judicial reform


Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Israel on Tuesday in the biggest weekday protest in months against the government’s renewed moves Reforming the country’s judicial system.

They blocked traffic in Tel Aviv and wreaked havoc at Ben Gurion Airport, marched in front of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem and lined the shores of the Mediterranean for what they called a day of “unrest and resistance”.

Photos and videos released by protest organizers and Israeli police showed protesters on the streets in cities across the country including Haifa, Petah Tikva, Beersheba, Hod Hasharon and other locations. Israeli police said in a statement that at least 66 people had been arrested by 2:50 pm local time (7:50 am ET), seven of whom had already been released.

Lawmakers voted on Monday to strip the Supreme Court of the power to declare government actions “unreasonable,” in the first of three votes needed to turn the controversial bill into law.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Security personnel remove a protester who was blocking the highway leading to Jerusalem.

The bill is part of a comprehensive package of judicial reform measures that will weaken the judiciary. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies have called the measures “reforms” and say they are required to rebalance the powers between the courts, lawmakers and the government. But opponents of the plan say it threatens to turn Israel into a dictatorship by removing the most important oversight of government action.

Large protests against the agenda have erupted in the country since the beginning of the year. Netanyahu halted the legislative process in March after an unprecedented general strike shut down much of Israel’s economy. Monday’s vote marks the end of that pause.

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A large protest is being held in cities across Israel, the latest in a series of demonstrations against months-long judicial reform that has disrupted life in the country.

Organizers said they closed the Ayalon Highway on Tuesday, Tel Aviv’s main thoroughfare, and stressed that police would not be able to clear the road due to the number of demonstrators.

Video from the scene of the accident showed a photographer for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz landed during a demonstration in Haifa, in northern Israel, on Tuesday morning, before he was escorted away by police.

The video shows him telling the police that he works for Haaretz, one of Israel’s most popular newspapers. Haaretz tweeted the video with a caption saying that the photographer was beaten by the police, arrested and released after a few minutes.

Protesters could be heard around him shouting “shame” – a common chant in anti-reform protests – as he was led away. The Israeli police said the photographer blocked a road, was “behaving disruptively”, and pushed police officers before arresting him.

He was “yelling and causing a commotion. As a result, he was pushed towards the sidewalk. In response, the journalist responded to the law enforcement officers, necessitating the use of force to remove him from the scene. “We note that he was immediately released after that”.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Protests erupted throughout the year in Israel against the plans.

In March, Netanyahu was forced to backtrack on his controversial plans to reform the country’s judiciary, amid widespread strikes and protests as well as mounting international pressure.

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The delay followed an unprecedented general strike that shut down transportation, universities, restaurants and retailers. Netanyahu has also faced rare expressions of concern about his plans from key allies, including the United States.

But Netanyahu did not cancel the agenda – he merely postponed it until a future Knesset session. He’s now returning to the controversial effort, renewing outrage in the country.

The Knesset voted Monday night to advance the bill that would strip the Supreme Court of the power to declare government decisions unreasonable — the first of the three votes required for the bill to become law. The second and third are scheduled for July 24.

If those votes pass, it will become the first part of the reform to become law.

Judicial reform is a package of bills that, in essence, would give the Israeli parliament and the Knesset, and thus the parties in power, greater control over the Israeli judiciary.

From how judges are chosen, to the laws the Supreme Court can rule on, the changes will mark an historic shake-up in Israel’s judiciary.

Netanyahu said last month that the most controversial aspect of his proposed changes — a provision allowing the national legislature, the Knesset, to overturn Supreme Court decisions — is Dropped and won’t come back.

But even if that element were no longer there, the package would still include a number of controversial changes, including changing the composition of the committee that selects the judges so that the current government has effective control; Removing independent legal advisors – whose decisions are binding – from government ministries; and stripping the Supreme Court of the power to declare government decisions “unreasonable”.

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Maya Aliruzzo/AP

Netanyahu said the Supreme Court does not represent the Israeli people.

Israel has no written constitution, only a set of quasi-constitutional basic laws, and it also has no oversight over the power of the Knesset. other than the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu and his supporters argued that the Supreme Court had become an elite, isolated group that did not represent the Israeli people. They argued that the Supreme Court had overstepped its role, entering into cases it should not decide.

Critics said Netanyahu was pushing reform forward because of his ongoing corruption trial, where he faces charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.

His opponents also said that the initially proposed reform would have gone too far, and would have completely eliminated the only avenue available to provide checks and balances for the Israeli legislature.

Netanyahu defended the reform plans, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria In April, he said that “the great challenge is to bring it back to the balance that is acceptable in most democracies…without going to the side that might actually remove the checks and balances on majority power.”