Israelis rallied in towns and cities across the country on Saturday for the 11th straight week of protests against the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for judicial reform.
The protesters fear that the proposed reforms, which are already going through parliament and would increase politicians’ power over the courts, are a threat to Israeli democracy.
In Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square, thousands of protesters waved the blue and white Israeli flag of Israel, as well as the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ community.
Protesters blocked roads as they marched through the heart of the city. “Saving Democracy!” read a banner held aloft by the crowd.
“I am not worried about myself, but about my daughters and grandchildren,” said Naama Mazor, 64, a pensioner from the city of Herzliya.
“We want to keep Israel democratic and liberal, Jewish of course, but liberal. We are very worried that it will turn into a dictatorship,” he told AFP.
“There is no democracy by halves. We are a democracy or a dictatorship. There is nothing in between.”
Sagiv Golan, 46, from Tel Aviv, said the government was “trying to destroy civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and everything that democracy stands for… We want to show the voice of democracy “.
Israeli media reported demonstrations in more than 100 towns and cities, including Haifa, Jerusalem and Beersheba.
– Engagement plan rejected –
Since Netanyahu’s government announced the reforms in January, days after taking office, mass demonstrations have been held regularly across Israel.
Opponents of the package have accused Netanyahu, who is on trial on a corruption charge that she denies, of trying to use the reforms to quash potential trials against him. The prime minister has denied the accusation.
Expressing concern about the growing division in Israeli society, President Isaac Herzog presented a compromise proposal on Wednesday, but the government immediately rejected it.
“Anyone who thinks that a genuine civil war, involving human lives, is a line we could never reach, has no idea what they are talking about,” Herzog said.
Opposition party leaders told a joint news conference on Thursday that they supported Herzog’s scheme.
“The offer is not perfect,” said former Prime Minister Yair Lapid. “It’s not what we wanted, but it’s a fair compromise that allows us to live together.”
The ruling coalition, which includes ultra-Orthodox and far-right Jewish parties, argues that the proposed reforms are necessary to correct an imbalance of power between elected representatives and Israel’s highest court.
Immediately after Herzog’s announcement, Netanyahu called it a “one-sided compromise”, whose “key points” “only perpetuate the existing situation and do not provide the required balance between the powers.”
The reforms would, among other things, allow lawmakers to overturn supreme court rulings with a simple majority vote.
Other proposals would give the government more weight in the committee that selects judges and would deny the high court the right to strike down any amendments to the so-called Basic Laws, Israel’s quasi-constitution.