Tens of thousands of protestors gathered outside parliament on Monday as Israeli MPs hurled insults over the government’s plans to restructure the judiciary. The president also warned that the country was in danger of “constitutional collapse.”
The proposals have sparked irate demonstrations across Israel for weeks as they would give right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greater control over selections to the bench and limit the Supreme Court’s authority to overturn laws or rule against the government.
On Monday, the Knesset Constitution Committee voted to send the first chapter of the plan to the plenum for a first reading, after a rowdy start to the meeting in which several lawmakers were thrown out forcibly, to shouts of “shame, shame”.
As lawmakers traded calls of “fascist” and “traitor”, sang protest folk songs and even cried inside the Knesset, tens of thousands of protesters massed outside.
Netanyahu, currently on trial on corruption charges which he denies, says the changes are needed to restore balance in the system and curb activist judges who have overreached their powers to interfere in the political sphere.
“I call on the heads of the opposition: Stop it. Stop deliberately dragging the country into anarchy,” he said in a statement. “Most Israeli citizens do not want anarchy. They want a substantive discourse and in the end they want unity.”
But the plans have exposed deep splits within Israeli society, pitting the economic establishment and more liberal sections of the country against supporters of Netanyahu and his right-wing religious and nationalist coalition allies.
Protester Hila Morzehavi stated, “I’m protesting for the country my father fought for, my brother fought for, and my uncle died for. They strove to make Israel a democracy rather than a fascist nation.
The ideas, according to critics, run the risk of undermining democratic checks and balances, isolating Israel abroad, and putting human rights and civil freedoms at jeopardy.
According to a poll published on Sunday by Israel’s public broadcaster Kan, 28% of Israelis support the judicial reform as it currently stands, while 50% are opposed to it.