| 18 April 2024, Thursday |

Protesters “fight for Israel’s soul” as parliament readies judicial overhaul

As parliament prepared to hold a first reading on Monday of judicial changes supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist cabinet, the Israeli opposition vowed to “battle for the soul of the nation” with new demonstrations.

With 64 of the 120 Knesset seats in his possession, Netanyahu appeared to have a good chance of securing approval for the first two amendments, one of which would have given the government more influence in selecting judges and the other would have restricted the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn legislation.

By noon, thousands of citizens carrying Israeli flags and STOP signs streamed to parliament to protest the vote that was expected to be held later in the day.

Polls have found that most Israelis want the reforms slowed to allow for dialogue with critics – or shelved altogether.

The shekel was 0.6% weaker versus the dollar in midday trading. Seeing instability from the reform feud, many economists, and leaders from high-tech and banking have warned of investor and capital flight from Israel. But a key coalition figure brushed this off.

“There is no link between the justice system reforms and any blow to Israel’s economy,” said Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni and head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party. “Any attempt at linkage is politicized.”

Opposition lawmakers protested Gafni’s statement, calling the committee “a circus”.

Ahead of the afternoon reading, protesters posted online videos of themselves trying to prevent lawmakers from Netanyahu’s coalition leaving for the Knesset. Police said eight people were arrested for disorderly conduct and traffic rerouted after demonstrators blocked some roads.

“Demonstrators who talk about democracy are themselves bringing about the end of democracy when they deny elected delegates the fundamental right in a democracy – to vote,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

The government says the reforms are designed to end overreach into politics by an unrepresentative Supreme Court. Critics say Netanyahu – who is on trial on graft charges that he denies – seeks legal changes that will hurt Israel’s democratic checks and balances, foster corruption and bring diplomatic isolation.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted that demonstrations would mount “in the fight for the soul of the nation”.

Israel’s head of state, President Isaac Herzog, has repeatedly urged the government and opposition to hold compromise talks. But while both sides have voiced willingness, they disagree on terms.

  • Reuters