The Commercial Appeal

Netanyahu advances judicial changes

- Tia Goldenberg and Moshe Edri

JERUSALEM – Israel’s government on Monday pressed ahead with a contentiou­s plan to overhaul the country’s legal system, despite an unpreceden­ted uproar that has included mass protests, warnings from military and business leaders and calls for restraint by the United States.

Tens of thousands of demonstrat­ors gathered outside the parliament, or Knesset, for a second straight week to rally against the plan as lawmakers prepared to hold an initial vote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies, a collection of ultra-religious and ultra-nationalis­t lawmakers, say the plan is meant to fix a system that has given the courts and government legal advisers too much say in how legislatio­n is crafted and decisions are made. Critics say it will upend the country’s system of checks and balances and concentrat­e power in the hands of the prime minister. They also say that Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, has a conflict of interest.

Simcha Rothman, a far-right lawmaker leading the legislativ­e initiative, presented the proposal to the Knesset during a stormy debate. Several opposition lawmakers were escorted out of the hall by security for screaming at him, while a spectator was carried away by guards from the viewing gallery after smashing the protective glass in anger.

The standoff has plunged Israel into one of its greatest domestic crises, sharpening a divide between Israelis over the character of their state and the values they believe should guide it.

“We are fighting for our children’s future, for our country’s future. We don’t intend to give up,” opposition leader Yair Lapid told a meeting of his party in the Knesset as protesters amassed outside.

Small groups of protesters demonstrat­ed outside the homes of some lawmakers, preventing one member of Netanyahu’s Likud party from taking her special-needs daughter to school.

Netanyahu accused the demonstrat­ors of inciting violence and said they were ignoring the will of the people who voted the government into power last

November. Netanyahu for his part, along with his political allies, denied the legitimacy of the short-lived previous government which briefly unseated him in 2021.

“The people exercised their right to vote in the elections and the people’s representa­tives will exercise their right to vote here in Israel’s Knesset. It’s called democracy,” Netanyahu told his Likud party. Netanyahu showed no signs of backing down before the vote despite the pressure, but left the door open for dialogue on the planned changes.

Monday’s vote on part of the legislatio­n is just the first of three readings required for parliament­ary approval. While that process is expected to take months, the vote is a sign of the coalition’s determinat­ion to barrel ahead and seen by many as an act of bad faith.

Israel’s figurehead president has urged the government to freeze the legislatio­n and seek a compromise with the opposition. Leaders in the booming tech sector have warned that weakening the judiciary could drive away investors.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have been protesting in Tel Aviv and other cities each week.

Last week, some 100,000 people demonstrat­ed outside the Knesset as a committee granted initial approval to the plan. It was the largest protest in the city in years.

For a second straight week, thousands of people poured into the city from around the country for a mass demonstrat­ion against the planned judicial changes. Many waved Israeli flags, blew horns, and held signs that urged “saving democracy.”

“All the steps that are going to take place now in the Knesset will change us to a pure dictatorsh­ip,” said Itan Gur Aryeh, a 74-year-old retiree. “All the power will be with the government, with the head of the government, and we’ll all be without rights.”

Earlier in the day, protesters launched a sit-down demonstrat­ion at the entrance of the homes of some coalition lawmakers and briefly halted traffic on Tel Aviv’s main highway.

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