Thousands protest in Israel despite pause in judicial reform | News

Protesters took to the streets days after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to freeze the controversial proposal.

Thousands of Israelis protested in Tel Aviv for the 13th week in a row against controversial judicial reforms that the government has now suspended while talks with party representatives take place.

Carrying Israeli flags on Saturday, people marched through the center of Israel’s commercial hub, chanting “democracy” and carrying placards condemning the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Smaller gatherings were held in other cities.

The protests erupted in January after the coalition announced its reform package, which the government says is necessary to rebalance powers between parliamentarians and the judiciary.

The proposed reforms would limit the Supreme Court’s powers and give politicians more power to choose judges, which opponents said could threaten Israeli democracy.

On Monday, Netanyahu announced a pause in passing the necessary laws through parliament, ahead of a general strike triggered by his announcement that he was firing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for calling for just such a pause.

People participate in protests against the government in Tel Aviv
The proposed reforms would limit the powers of the Supreme Court [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Compromise talks

By Tuesday, representatives of most parliamentary parties had begun talks at President Isaac Herzog’s residence to try to formulate a law that would be acceptable to both sides of the political spectrum.

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Tel Aviv, said a broad spectrum of the Israeli population is against Netanyahu’s plans for judicial reform.

“A lot of people here don’t believe the prime minister when he says he’s going to genuinely engage in consultations,” he said.

He added that Netanyahu is under heavy pressure from his far-right allies to press ahead with judicial reforms despite nationwide protests against the move.

Critics saw the government’s action as a threat to the independence of the court and an attempt at a legal coup. Advocates said he was looking for a less elitist, interventionist place.

Netanyahu, on trial for corruption charges he denies, said reforms were needed to balance the branches of government. His Likud party and far-right political allies are calling on their political base to organize counter-protests.

Israeli media estimated that more than 150,000 people attended anti-government protests across the country on Saturday.

Many political commentators and opposition figures have expressed skepticism about the prospects of Herzog’s mediation efforts, with the coalition saying it will finalize the legislation in the next parliamentary session if talks fail.

In the meantime, Netanyahu did not hand Gallant the dismissal required by law, so the defense minister carried out his duties as usual.

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