TEL AVIV, Jan. 21 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Israelis took part in demonstrations on Saturday against the reform plans of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, which protesters say threaten the democratic checks and balances of ministers by the courts.
The plans, which the government says are necessary to curb too much influence from activist judges, were met with strong opposition from groups, including lawyers, and raised concerns among business leaders, exacerbating the already deep political divisions in Israeli society.
“They want to turn us into a dictatorship, they want to destroy democracy,” said the head of Israel’s Bar Association, Avi Chimi. “They want to destroy the judiciary. There is no democratic country without a judiciary.”
Netanyahu has dismissed the protests, now entering their third week, as a refusal by left-wing opponents to accept the results of last November’s election, which spawned one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history.
The protesters say the future of Israeli democracy is at stake if the government succeeds in pushing through plans that would tighten political control over judicial appointments and limit the Supreme Court’s powers to overturn government decisions or Knesset laws. to make.
In addition to threatening the independence of judges and weakening oversight of the government and parliament, they say the plans will undermine minority rights and open the door to more corruption.
“We are fighting for democracy,” said 64-year-old Amnon Miller to a crowd of demonstrators, many carrying white and blue Israeli flags. “We have fought for our freedom in this country in the military for 30 years and we will not let this government take away our freedom.”
Saturday’s protests, which Israeli media said were expected to draw more than 100,000 people to central Tel Aviv, come days after the Supreme Court ordered Netanyahu Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads the religious Shas party, to to be fired due to a recent tax conviction.
The new government, which took office this month, is an alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud party and a group of smaller religious and far-right nationalist parties that say they have a mandate for sweeping changes.
Netanyahu, himself on trial on corruption charges he denies, has defended the plans for judicial reforms, currently under scrutiny by a parliamentary committee, saying they will restore a fair balance between the three branches of government.
Likud politicians have long accused the Supreme Court of being dominated by leftist judges who they say push into areas beyond their authority for political reasons. The court’s defenders say it plays a vital role in holding the government accountable in a country that has no formal constitution.
A survey published last week by the Israel Democracy Institute found that trust in the Supreme Court was significantly higher among left-wing Israelis than among those on the right, but there was no widespread support for weakening the court’s powers .
Reporting by Emily Rose; Written by James Mackenzie; Edited by David Holmes and Andrew Heavens
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