Friday, March 31, 2023

Mass protests in Israel as lawmakers prepare 1st vote on judicial overhaul

 Israeli protesters gathered outside the Parliament building in Jerusalem as Israel’s far-right government is pressing ahead with a controversial overhaul of the judicial system and ready to hold the first vote on two bills.

A spokesperson with the Jerusalem district’s police told Xinhua news agency that “tens of thousands” of people attended several massive rallies in the city on Monday.

Inside Parliament, lawmakers were preparing to hold the first vote on two bills aimed at curbing the Supreme Court’s oversight over legislation and increasing politicians’ influence over the court.

The vote is the first stage of three rounds of votes, after which the bills will become law, kick-starting the government’s planned overhaul.

One bill aims to alter the composition of the nine-member committee that appoints judges in a way that would limit the influence of legal professionals and grant the government an outright majority.

If approved, the law would enable the government to choose judges.

The other bill calls to eliminate the Supreme Court’s authority to invalidate basic laws passed by the Knesset, or the Parliament, even if they are unconstitutional.

The bills are the first two in a series of bills pushed forward by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-religious and ultranationalist coalition government, which according to critics will undermine the democratic foundations of Israel.

Netanyahu and his coalition partners argue that the plan aims to address the excessive influence of courts and legal advisers in lawmaking and decision-making.

Many protesters arrived in Jerusalem in convoys from across the country, blocking major routes on their way.

The protest started at dawn, with dozens of off-duty reserve soldiers rallying outside the home of Simcha Rothman, one of the leading lawmakers of the reform, in the settlement of Pnei Kedem.

Similar demonstrations were held outside the homes of other members of the coalition across the country.

A major concern of the protesters is that the reform will concentrate power in Netanyahu’s hands.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, is facing trial over corruption charges and Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara has warned his involvement in proposed reform puts him in a conflict of interest.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu accused the protesters of “trampling democracy” and “not accepting the results of the election” during his speech at the Knesset.

He said his coalition is open to a dialogue with critics of the reform but will press ahead with the planned votes in the Knesset.


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