TEL AVIV: Thousands of Israelis took to the streets on Saturday (Jul 29) to protest the government’s decision to forge ahead with its judicial reform package despite widespread opposition.
Demonstrators waving Israeli flags rallied in the country’s commercial hub Tel Aviv, keeping up the momentum of months of protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposals.
“We still love this country and we’re trying to fix all the problems,” said film composer Itay Amram.
“We’re not accepting any of it,” the 27-year-old told AFP, railing against what he saw as the government’s “constitutional revolution”.
From the northern city of Haifa to Eilat on the Red Sea, protest organisers promoted rallies nationwide in the biggest test of public opinion since the government put a key plank of its reforms to a final vote in parliament on Monday.
The vote to scrap the “reasonableness” law, through which the Supreme Court can overturn government decisions such as ministerial appointments, was met with concern from Israel’s top allies including the United States.
Israeli medics responded with a brief walkout, while scores of military veterans have vowed to end their volunteer duties and trade unions are mulling further industrial action.
Netanyahu argues the reform package is necessary to rebalance the relationship between elected officials and the judiciary, but the premier’s opponents accuse him of a power grab.
“We refuse to serve a dictatorship,” warned a placard held by a demonstrator in Tel Aviv.
While an official turnout figure was not available, Israel’s Channel 13 estimated more than 170,000 people turned out in the city.
Wrapped in an Israeli flag in Jerusalem, near the prime minister’s home, Lotem Pinchover said she felt “heartbroken, helpless” after Monday’s vote.
“I’m very scared of what’s happening in Israel now and I’m very worried about the future of my daughter,” the 40-year-old academic said.
Months of protests since the judicial package was unveiled in January – including some in support of the government — have led to fears about widening fissures within Israeli society.
Stationed at a “psychological first aid” stand for protesters in Jerusalem, therapist Pnina Manes said the situation “tears families apart”.
“It’s started to feel like – and it’s very sad for me to say so – like two different groups” in Israeli society, the 59-year-old said.
There have been multiple petitions filed at the Supreme Court this week against Monday’s vote, with hearings set to be held in September.
The broader reform package includes ambitions to hand the government a greater say in the appointment of judges, as well as downgrading the status of legal advisers attached to ministers.
The legislative process is currently on hold due to parliament’s summer recess, with Netanyahu pledging openness in negotiations over future steps.
Opposition chiefs remain sceptical of talks with the government, a coalition which also includes far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, after earlier dialogue broke down.