Thousands of Israelis protest against government plan to reform justice system

Tens of thousands of Israeli protesters took to the streets in at least three major cities on Saturday against the government’s judicial reform plans.

Israeli media reported that about 80,000 people had taken part in demonstrations in Tel Aviv and smaller protests in Jerusalem and Haifa. No major disturbances were reported, but Israeli media said a small crowd brawled with police as they tried to block a highway in Tel Aviv.

Police increased their presence ahead of the march. Israeli media reported that police said they were “very sensitive” and had been instructed to allow the protests to proceed peacefully. vowed to take strict action against

The Judicial Reform Plan includes a list of changes to the appointments, powers and operations of the country’s Supreme Court. They were first announced on January 4 by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who, along with other High Court critics, said unelected judges have too much power. It has said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a majority in parliament with his conservative new government. He said his plan for judicial reform was to restore the balance of the separation of powers. On Friday, he hinted at flexibility about the reform plan, saying it would be implemented “with all positions heard and carefully considered.”

Opponents of reform say the proposed changes would reduce the independence of the judiciary, threaten Israel’s democracy and foster corruption. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, Israel’s attorney general and Israeli opposition leaders have said they oppose the plan.

President Isaac Herzog appealed to polarized politicians to “lower the temperature” of the debate.

Israeli politics
People protest the government’s plans to reform the country’s legal system on January 14, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Oded Valilty/AP Photo)

Former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel from 2021 to 2022, current opposition member and leader of the Blue and White Party, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Gantz (veteran) joined the protests, Said Twitter: “Together in the square. We will fight in all legal ways to stop the coup.”

Politicians allied with Netanyahu also spoke out.

Finance and Defense Minister Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party, cheered supporters of the current government.

“During the previous left-wing government, we demonstrated over and over again,” he said. Posted Twitter on Saturday. “The disconnected media never gave us coverage for the week. [we] They didn’t intrude on the live broadcast, barely mentioned the demo’s existence after it was over, and deliberately underestimated it. Nevertheless, we overthrew the government and won the election. People are with us! And that’s how we’re going to reform the judicial system,” he said.

β€œThe cries of the left stem not from concerns about democracy, but from concerns about the fate of the legitimate aristocracy who have effectively ruled here for decades,” said Diaspora Affairs and Social Equality Ministers. , and members of the conservative Likud party, Said on Twitter.

Miki Zohar, a senior MP for Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, said on Twitter: Millions of people voted in the elections here two and a half months ago. We promised people to change, we promised to govern, we promised to reform.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is now serving his sixth term after a brief hiatus when he lost the 2021 election. He has been on trial for corruption charges since his 2019 indictment. Netanyahu says the judicial system is biased against him. He also denied any criminal activity and accused the media and law enforcement officials of plotting to deport him.

Proposed judicial reform

Levin’s proposed bill would adjust the size of the panel for selecting Supreme Court judges (the Judiciary Appointment Committee), expanding the panel from nine to eleven.

Panel members can approve appointments to the bench with a 6-to-5 majority, but the current threshold is a 7-to-2 majority, designed to encourage compromise. Meanwhile, the threshold for removing someone from the bench is changed from 7–2 to 9–2.

The bill also adjusts the composition of the judicial appointment committee. It currently consists of three Supreme Court justices, two ministers, two members of parliament, and two lawyers.

Under the bill, the panel’s number of members will be increased from two to three, two of whom are from the coalition. The number of participating ministers will increase to three. The two lawyers are replaced by her two “public figures” chosen by the Minister of Justice. This means that a total of 7 members either belong to the Confederation or are directly appointed by the Confederation.

Levin’s reforms also include provisions that allow appointments to the offices of Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court without having served as a Supreme Court Justice. Currently, the highest-ranking judge takes on the role of Chief Justice. Additionally, under the new bill, the Chief Justice’s term will be limited to his seven years.

Among other provisions, the bill also provides that a majority of 12 of the 15 Supreme Court justices must veto a law passed by Congress, thereby revoking it. Legislation may be re-enacted.

Judges are barred from hearing appeals against Israel’s Basic Law, the country’s quasi-constitution, passed by Congress. It would also remove “reasonableness” from the Supreme Court’s review criteria for overriding government decisions.

Opinion polls show that public opinion on reform is divided. Channel 13 TV revealed last week that 53% of her Israelis opposed changes to the court’s appointment structure, while 35% were in favor. However, Thursday’s Channel 14 TV voted 61% in favor and 35% against.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mimi Nguyen Lee

Mimi Nguyen Ly is a senior reporter for the Epoch Times. She covers US news and world news. Please contact her at [email protected]