By Emilia Rose
TEL AVIV (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Israelis joined demonstrations on Saturday against the judicial reform plans of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, which protesters said will threaten democratic checks and balances on ministers by the courts.
The plans, which the government says are needed to curb the overreach of activist judges, have drawn fierce opposition from groups including lawyers, and raised concerns among business executives, widening already deep political divisions in society. Israeli.
“They want to turn us into a dictatorship, they want to destroy democracy,” said the head of the Israeli Bar Association, Avi Chimi. “They want to destroy the judicial authority, there is no democratic country without judicial authority”.
Netanyahu dismissed the protests, now in their third week, as a refusal by left-wing opponents to accept last November’s election results, which produced one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history.
Protesters say the future of Israeli democracy is at stake if the government gets through the plans, which would strengthen political control over judicial appointments and limit the Supreme Court’s powers to overturn government decisions or Knesset laws.
In addition to threatening the independence of judges and weakening government and parliamentary oversight, they say the plans will undermine minority rights and open the door to more corruption.
“We are fighting for democracy,” Amnon Miller, 64, said in the crowd of protesters, many of whom carried blue-and-white Israeli flags. “We have fought in this country in the army for 30 years for our freedom and we will not let this government take our freedom.”
Saturday’s protests, which Israeli media reported drew more than 100,000 people to central Tel Aviv, come days after the Supreme Court ordered Netanyahu to fire Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads the religious Shas party , for a recent tax conviction.
The new government, which took office this month, is an alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud party and a group of small far-right nationalist and religious parties who say they have a mandate for radical change.
Netanyahu, himself on trial for corruption charges which he denies, defended the judicial reform plans, currently under consideration by a parliamentary committee, saying they would restore a fair balance between the three branches of government.
Likud politicians have long accused the Supreme Court of being dominated by left-wing judges who they say encroach on areas beyond their authority for political reasons. The court’s defenders say it plays a vital role in holding the government to account in a country that has no formal constitution.
A poll released by the Israel Democracy Institute last week showed that trust in the Supreme Court was markedly higher among Israelis on the left than among those on the right, but that there was no general support for weakening the court’s powers.
(Reporting by Emily Rose; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by David Holmes and Andrew Heavens)