According to estimates, up to 100,000 people are protesting against the judicial reform in Jerusalem

An estimated 100,000 people protest judicial reform in Jerusalem

On February 13, 2023, mass protests began in Israeli cities against government plans to introduce a controversial judicial reform. Pictured is a protest in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – According to the organizers, about 100,000 people are taking part in the protest against the Israeli government's plan to implement a controversial judicial reform in Jerusalem today. According to independent estimates, the number of participants in the demonstration at the parliament building is 70,000 to 80,000 people. This is reported by The Times of Israel news website. Smaller protests have also continued in other Israeli cities since this morning; in Tel Aviv, protesters briefly blocked the main entrance to the airport. In the committee of the Israeli parliament, which discussed the relevant reforms, meanwhile, according to the Reuters agency, an argument broke out between the deputies.

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The proposed reform would give right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more control over judicial appointments and weaken the Supreme Court's ability to block laws and rule against the executive branch, Reuters writes. Demonstrations have been taking place against the plans for over a month.

Today, the Constitutional Committee of the Israeli Parliament sent the first part of the controversial reform to the plenary session for the first reading. According to Reuters, the committee meeting got off to a stormy start, with at least three opposition lawmakers being kicked out of the room amid cries of “shame”.

As AP wrote, this is the largest protest in front of the Knesset in recent years. Signs such as “save Israel's democracy” can be seen on the banners of demonstrators in Jerusalem, and traffic jams are forming on the roads leading to the city as thousands more people descend on the site, writes The Times of Israel. A number of representatives of the opposition, including its leader, former Prime Minister Jair Lapid, have already spoken at the demonstration. “We will not be silent,” he said. “We will not be silent while they destroy everything that is dear and holy to us,” he stressed.

Activists from the Arab community, women's organizations and the LGBT+ community also took part in the demonstration. Academics, students and representatives of all generations also arrived. “I am afraid for the future of my three grandchildren. It will be a dictatorship like in Hungary or Poland,” 74-year-old Etty Passová, who arrived alone at the demonstration, told The Times of Israel.

“I don't have time off at work, but it was important for me to come,” said Tahel, a working mother from Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. She came to the demonstration with her two children and her husband. Like many other parents, she decided not to send her children to school today in order to take them to the protest.

As the demonstration gradually ended, Netanyahu released a video in which he accused his political opponents of sedition and of ” they are deliberately dragging the country into anarchy”. However, he also mentioned the possibility of a compromise. “The majority of the people of Israel do not want anarchy. They want substantive dialogue and they also want unity,” he added.

Former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence service, Tamir Pardo, said sweeping reforms would move Israel toward a dictatorship. According to him, the proposed reforms “misappropriate the basic values” of Israel, whose defense cost the lives of many soldiers.

Netanyahu is on trial on suspicion of corruption, which he denies. They argue that the changes are necessary to limit activist judges who have overstepped their authority and meddle in politics.

Critics, on the other hand, say that by weakening the role of judges, the reforms may limit democratic principles in Israel and ensure unlimited power for the government. In addition to the opposition, Israeli banks and the technology sector also issued warnings. They say the reform could threaten the civil institutions that contribute to the country's prosperity.

In a televised address on Sunday evening, Israeli President Yitzhak Herzog called for consensus, saying the outrage had left Israel on the brink of a “constitutional and social collapse”.

U.S. President Joe Biden urged Netanyahu to reach an agreement before pushing far-reaching changes, saying in comments published by The New York Times on Sunday that an independent judiciary is one of the foundations of American and Israeli democracy.