Huge protest in Israel against judicial changes from the right-wing government | Israel

An estimated 100,000 people took to the streets in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening in what protesters described as a “fight for the fate of Israel” over sweeping judicial changes proposed by the new far-right government.

Israel’s longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to his post last month at the helm of a coalition of conservative and religious parties that form the most right-wing government in the country’s history.

The new government has accused Israel’s Supreme Court of left-wing bias and overstepping its authority, and is seeking to curb the court’s powers by giving the Knesset more control over judicial appointments and seriously undermining its ability to overturn laws and government orders. to limit.

The protest in Tel Aviv, along with smaller demonstrations in Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba, was sparked by fears that the far-reaching proposals undermine democratic standards. Since Israel has no formal constitution, the Supreme Court plays an important role in keeping ministers in check.

Netanyahu – who is himself on trial on corruption charges, which he denies – has defended the plans. His detractors say the proposed changes could help the prime minister avoid a conviction or even drop the case altogether.

Israeli opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, as well as several other figures from across the country’s political spectrum, addressed protesters in central Tel Aviv on Saturday as the crowd waved the blue and white national flag and held signs reading ” No to dictatorship”. ”.

“We have representatives of many groups here on the street who don’t normally come to protest, but they are there, even sworn rightists,” said one speaker, celebrated novelist David Grossman.

“This immensely diverse group is willing to put aside its differences and fight this existential struggle…In its 75th year, Israel is in a fateful struggle for its character, for its democracy and for the status of its rule of law.”

A protester holds a sign during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening
A protester holds a sign during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday night. Photo: Eyal Warshavsky/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

Noya Matalon, 24, a law student at Tel Aviv University, said: “The last major protest movement in Israel was about taking down Netanyahu, but it is no longer a matter of right and left. Everyone – Arabs, Jews, even people who agree that we need some judicial reforms – everyone says they are afraid.”

Musician Ollie Danon, 23, canceled a show scheduled for Saturday night so he and the public could join the protests instead. “There is a crisis of involvement in politics here after five elections in a short time. There was a sense that it was all about Bibi,” he said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

“However, this is now bigger than Bibi; it’s an emergency. I believe the Supreme Court needs reform. Her statements mostly support the occupation [of the Palestinian territories], and somehow it is now the left wing protesting to defend it. It’s all absurd.”

Saturday’s rallies build on similar demonstrations in recent weeks, including one last weekend in Tel Aviv that drew 80,000 people, nationwide student protests and one outside a court in Tel Aviv. Roee Neuman, one of the organizers, said more street protests are planned, as well as strike action.

“I am optimistic that things can change, even if I am not optimistic about the State of Israel at the moment. We are going to step up our efforts: we are coordinating strikes in sectors that would normally never get involved, such as lawyers, doctors and the tech industry. We can block roads.

“It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, but I think if it starts to hit the economy, they’re going to have to listen.”

In addition to the growing protest movement, the prime minister has also faced pressure from Israel’s attorney general following a ruling last week that disqualified key ally Aryeh Deri from holding government office due to a conviction for tax violations.

Netanyahu was forced to fire the leader of the Shas party at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, declaring that “the Supreme Court’s decision ignores the will of the nation.”

The coalition also faced an early test on Friday in the form of a disagreement between cabinet members over the dismantling of a new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.

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