According to The New York Times, around 100,000 Israelis from all across the country demonstrated outside the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem on Monday, February 13, in opposition to the extensive judicial reform proposals made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government.
The protesters arrived at the location by train, as well as in groups of buses and cars, carrying Israeli flags, megaphones, and homemade banners. They held up signs endorsing freedom, democracy, and judicial independence.
The nation was “on the verge of constitutional and societal collapse,” President Isaac Herzog said in a broadcast speech the day before the protests on Monday. He asked the parliamentarians to resolve the matter through compromise.
Since Netanyahu and his far-right allies took office in December 2022, Saturday evening protests in Israel have reportedly become a regular occurrence. However, they became more intense after Netanyahu’s close ally and justice minister Yariv Levin announced the ruling coalition’s plan to reform the legal system of the nation during the first week of January.
Four significant adjustments are part of the strategy. First, the administration seeks to make it possible for the 120-member Knesset to overrule any decision made by the Supreme Court with a simple majority of 61 votes, unless such decisions are made unanimously.
Second, it also aims to do away with the “reasonability” standard that the supreme court formerly employed to invalidate executive activities.
In addition, Levin proposed a measure that would give parliamentarians a bigger say in who gets appointed to the Supreme Court. As of right now, judges are elevated to the supreme court by a committee made up of professionals, justices, and lawmakers. According to a report by the Associated Press, the new shift would give “lawmakers a majority in the committee, with most hailing from the right-wing and religiously conservative ruling coalition.”
Levin also favours giving ministers the freedom to select their own legal counsel rather than relying on impartial experts.
After a government-controlled committee decided to advance a portion of the proposed law on Monday, mayhem broke out inside the Israeli Parliament as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the streets. The opposition leaders reportedly yelled anti-decision slogans, and “several of them clambered over tables to face the committee chair, Simcha Rothman, a government politician,” according to the NYT account.
Additionally, it stated that after Monday’s committee decision, there will be lengthy floor debates in Parliament, which would be the first step towards passing the proposal into law in the upcoming months.
In Israel, the right wing and conservatives have long viewed the judiciary as a left-leaning obstacle to their legislative agenda. Additionally, Netanyahu’s coalition administration has asserted that its reform measures will restore power to elected officials rather than “interventionist judges” in light of Israelis’ alleged lack of faith in the judicial system.
Apart from that, the government wants to utilise its ability to overturn Supreme Court verdicts to stop social reforms, especially those that would affect the LGBTQ community, and to reverse the court’s “rulings prohibiting Israeli outposts on private Palestinian territory,” according to the AP.
Experts speculate that the ruling parties may try to sway the outcome of Netanyahu’s corruption prosecution, which is presently being handled by Israel’s attorney general Gali Baharav-Miara, using the planned judicial reforms. Many worry that this is just the beginning and that the government would eventually change the laws to exonerate Netanyahu, even though the changes won’t have any immediate effects on the current court case.
These worries are not unjustified, as Netanyahu’s allies broached the concept of limiting the attorney general’s authority by separating the position into three different posts while assuring that at least two of the seats be filled by political appointments last year, during the election campaign.
Currently, a professional committee made up of former justice department employees and others must approve the appointment of the attorney general once it has been proposed by the government. Notably, Yair Lapid, the current head of the opposition, was the prime minister during the previous administration’s time with Baharav-Miara.
Not only President Herzog has warned of the potential for violence in response to the suggested measures. The legislature “threatens to destroy the country at breakneck speed,” Lapid said in a press conference on Monday, according to The Times of Israel. “The democratic chapter in the existence of the state would finish if this legislation passes,” he declared.
Benny Gantz, a former defence minister, has also issued a civil war warning.
In the meantime, Netanyahu has claimed that his detractors are “leading the nation towards anarchy.” The majority of Israeli Israelis don’t want anarchy, he declared. They seek unity and narrowly focused dialogue in the end.