Israelis protest reforms ahead of new parliament session

AFP , Saturday 29 Apr 2023

The latest protest against the Israeli government's controversial judicial reform plans packed central Tel Aviv on Saturday, as divisions persist just days before lawmakers return to parliament.

Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu s far-right government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, April 29, 2023. AP


Opponents of the legislation have kept up demonstrations in the commercial hub and across the country since January, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu putting the controversial reform programme on ice a month ago.

"History has its eyes on you," read a placard held aloft at the rally in Tel Aviv, where demonstrators lit flares and waved national flags in the latest show of political discontent.

Israeli society has been deeply split over the ambitious legislation, which seeks to weaken the Supreme Court and hand politicians greater influence over the selection of judges.

Netanyahu's right-wing administration argues the proposals are necessary to rebalance power between the judiciary and elected officials, while opponents say they represent a threat to democracy.

The weekly rallies have repeatedly drawn tens of thousands onto the streets of Tel Aviv, although a turnout figure for Saturday was not immediately available.

Israelis gathered against the backdrop of cross-party talks hosted by President Isaac Herzog this month, which have sought to reach a compromise on the reform package.

The negotiations were launched after Netanyahu announced a halt to the legislative process on March 27 "out of a desire to prevent a rift in the nation", in the face of mass protests and a general strike.

However, the opposition has remained sceptical of the premier's intentions and no compromise has been reached.

With parliament due to hold an opening session Monday after a recess, both backers of the reform and its detractors have sought to keep up the pressure on politicians.

The architect of the reform, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, addressed thousands of supporters who rallied in Jerusalem on Thursday.

The pro-reform protest was also attended by far-right Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich, who vowed the government will not "give up" on the package.

The cabinet ministers are part of a coalition of right-wing, extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties which took office in late December.

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