Israeli protesters on Tuesday took to Tel Aviv’s streets in the run-up to a parliament vote on a key component of the government’s judicial reform agenda they say would “dismantle democracy”.
The proposals have divided the nation and triggered one of the biggest protest movements in Israel’s history since being unveiled in January by the hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Weekly rallies across Israel have drawn tens of thousands of protesters aiming to prevent what they believe could open the way to more authoritarian government.
Crowds gathered in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub, early on Tuesday after organisers had called for a “national day of resistance” ahead of a planned vote by lawmakers later this month.
Organisers urged supporters to rally at train stations, city squares and roundabouts across Israel.
Demonstrators holding Israeli flags and chanting “democracy, democracy” also entered the stock exchange building in Tel Aviv and staged a rally there, an AFP correspondent said.
“Faced with a government that… is rushing to dismantle democracy, we are the only ones, the citizens, who can stop the train of dictatorship,” organisers said in a statement.
Josh Drill, a spokesman for the protest movement, said pressure on the government would continue through “non-violent acts of civil disobedience”.
“We will continue to protest in the streets until the complete cancellation of the judicial overhaul,” he told AFP.
The government temporarily paused the divisive legal overhaul in March in the wake of a general strike.
But in recent weeks it launched a new political offensive to pass the package in parliament.
Parliament is due vote on a measure to limit the “reasonability” clause, through which the judiciary can strike down government decisions.
Lawmakers adopted the bill in a first reading last week.
If approved in second and third readings later this month — before parliament’s summer recess — this key clause of the reform package will become law.
Other proposed measures include giving politicians a greater say in the appointment of judges.
The government, which includes Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right allies, says the changes are necessary to rebalance powers between elected officials and the judiciary.
“The State of Israel is, and will always be, a democratic state,” Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting on Monday.
Israeli President Issac Herzog, before departing to the United States on an official visit, urged lawmakers to “arrive at reasonable formulas, both on the subject of the reasonability clause, and on other matters”.
Most recently, “reasonability” was cited by Israel’s top court to force Netanyahu to remove a cabinet member over a previous tax evasion conviction.
Critics accuse Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charge he denies, of trying to use the reforms to quash possible judgements against him.
He rejects the accusation.
The proposed reforms have also drawn international criticism, including from key ally Washington.
In a recent CNN interview, US President Joe Biden said he hoped Netanyahu would “continue to move towards moderation”.