Israelis stage ‘day of resistance’ against judicial overhaul

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Israelis on Tuesday marched on highways and blocked army headquarters in Tel Aviv in the run-up to a parliament vote on the government’s judicial reform agenda protesters say would “dismantle democracy”.

The proposals have divided the nation and triggered one of the biggest protest movements in Israel’s history since being unveiled in January by the hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Weekly rallies across Israel have drawn tens of thousands of protesters aiming to prevent what they believe could open the way to more authoritarian government.

Crowds gathered in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub, early on Tuesday after organizers had called for a “national day of resistance” ahead of a planned vote by lawmakers on a key clause later this month.

Organizers urged supporters to rally at train stations, city squares, highways, and roundabouts across Israel.

Demonstrators holding Israeli flags and chanting “democracy, democracy” marched on highways and bridges, and blocked several roads as well as an entrance to the military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, AFP correspondents reported.

Opponents of the government’s reforms also entered the stock exchange building in the city and staged a rally there.

Protester Inbal Oraz said the timing of the protest was “critical” before parliament breaks for summer recess on July 30.

“This month is critical and this week is critical, because in less than a week we will know if this first law of this package is going to pass,” the tech consultant told AFP.

“We are doing our best to fight and stop it.”

In the central city of Kfar Saba, police said they have arrested at least two protesters.

The government temporarily paused the divisive legal overhaul in March in the wake of a general strike.

But in recent weeks it launched a new political offensive to pass the package in parliament.

Parliament is due vote on a measure to limit the “reasonability” clause, through which the judiciary can strike down government decisions.

Ahead of Tuesday’s protests, organizers said in a statement it was the “citizens who can stop the train of dictatorship”.

  • ‘Always’ a democracy –

Josh Drill, a spokesman for the protest movement, said pressure on the government would continue through “non-violent acts of civil disobedience”.

“We will continue to protest in the streets until the complete cancellation of the judicial overhaul,” he told AFP.

Lawmakers adopted the “reasonability” bill in a first reading last week.

If approved in second and third readings, it will become the first major component of the reform package to become law.

Other proposed measures include giving politicians a greater say in the appointment of judges.

The government, which includes Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right allies, says the changes are necessary to rebalance powers between elected officials and the judiciary.

“The State of Israel is, and will always be, a democratic state,” Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting on Monday.

Israeli President Issac Herzog, before departing to the United States on an official visit, urged lawmakers to “arrive at reasonable formulas, both on the subject of the reasonability clause, and on other matters”.

Most recently, “reasonability” was cited by Israel’s top court to force Netanyahu to remove a cabinet member over a previous tax evasion conviction.

Critics accuse Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charge he denies, of trying to use the reforms to quash possible judgements against him.

He rejects the accusation.

The proposed reforms have also drawn international criticism, including from key ally Washington.

In a recent CNN interview, US President Joe Biden said he hoped Netanyahu would “continue to move towards moderation”.

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