Organizers say 500,000 people attended Saturday’s protests, making them among the “biggest in Israeli history.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have gathered in cities across Israel for the 10th consecutive week to protest plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government to curtail the power of the Supreme Court.
A record 500,000 people attended on Saturday, according to organizers, making them among the “biggest in Israeli history.”
Media in Israel estimate the turnout at 250,000 to 300,000 people.
The demonstrations come as Netanyahu’s government prepares to move ahead with its legislative agenda next week, avoiding calls for a pause to allow negotiations on divisive judicial reforms.
“I am demonstrating because the measures the new government wants to take pose a real and immediate threat to Israeli democracy,” one protester, tech entrepreneur Ran Shahor, told AFP news agency in the coastal city of Tel Aviv.
“It is not a judicial reform. It is a revolution that will make Israel a full-blown dictatorship and I want Israel to remain a democracy for my children,” Tamir Guytsabri, 58, told Reuters news agency.
According to Israeli media, some 200,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv, while 50,000 protested in the northern city of Haifa and 10,000 in Beersheba – the largest so far in both.
The demonstrations proceeded without major incident, although police arrested three protesters who blocked traffic on Tel Aviv’s ring road.
An aerial photo shows crowds of protesters in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 11, 2023 (Ilan Rosenberg/ Reuters)
The uproar over the law changes has plunged Israel into one of its worst domestic crises. Aside from the protests, which have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis to the streets and recently turned violent, opposition has emerged from across society, with business leaders and legal officials speaking out against what they say will be the devastating consequences of the plan.
The legislation would give the government more weight in the committee that selects judges and would strip the Supreme Court of its right to overturn changes to so-called basic laws, Israel’s quasi-constitution.
These provisions have already been approved by the legislators at first reading.
Another element of the reforms would give the 120-member parliament the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions by a simple majority of 61 votes.
Critics say the changes will destroy the country’s system of checks and balances and concentrate power in the hands of the prime minister and his allies.
Some also say that Netanyahu, on trial for corruption, is driven by personal grievances and that the overhaul could help him find an escape route from the charges.
Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and says the law changes have nothing to do with his trial.
Israeli President Issac Herzog — who in his largely ceremonial role has sought to establish dialogue — on Thursday called on the governing coalition to halt the legislation, calling it “a threat to the very foundations of democracy.”
However, the chairman of the parliament’s law committee, Simcha Rotman, has scheduled daily hearings on parts of the government’s reforms from Sunday to Wednesday ahead of the votes.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin has said the coalition intends to approve key elements of the reforms before parliament goes into recess on April 2.
The judicial overhaul is a cornerstone of Netanyahu’s government, an alliance with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and far-right parties that took office in late December.