Protests grip Israel as Netanyahu pushes bill to weaken supreme court

Demonstrators argue that the law will be detrimental to Israel’s democracy and erode civil rights

NEW DELHI | Updated: 25 July, 2023 12:41 pm IST
Protests have continued in capital Jerusalem and other cities for at least 29 weeks

NEW DELHI: Mass protests have erupted across Israel as citizens take to the streets to voice their anger over a new law passed by the parliament, which limits the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn decisions made by the government.

The controversial legislation has sparked widespread demonstrations in major cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, leading to clashes with law enforcement and heightened political tensions.

For more than 29 weeks, thousands of Israelis have been flooding the streets and blocking major roads in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheva, Herzliya and Kfar Saba condemning the perceived assault on democracy. Law enforcement often respond with water cannons and arrests.

More than 10,000 military reservists have threatened to deny duty at a time when the number of terrorists and civilians killed in the West Bank is pegged the highest in Israeli attacks and so the deaths of Israeli civilians in attacks by Hamas.

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The law’s passage was equally chaotic as the entire opposition walked out of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in protest. The bill sailed through by 64-0.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who calls PM Modi his “great friend”, addressed the nation through a televised speech, attempting to calm the unrest by suggesting a postponement of the broader judicial overhaul plan, initially scheduled for late November. However, protesters dismissed his proposal as insincere.

PM Netanyahu has accused of the country’s top court of being insular and a bunch of elitists.

An unprecedented constitutional crisis could unfold if the supreme court strikes down the law itself. Opposition leaders are planning to challenge the law’s legality in the apex court.

If the two-phased proposed overhaul sails through, a simple majority in parliament would overturn its decisions. Another bill seeks to grant parliament the final say in selecting judges.

While the government argues that these changes are necessary to reduce the powers of unelected judges, critics view them as a power grab that threatens Israel’s democracy where ruling party or coalition holds the control over the legislative and executive. Israel doesn’t have an upper house in parliament and the supreme court is the only authority which keeps a check on the power.

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Protesters accuse PM Netanyahu and his far-right allies of trying to appoint cronies to government positions, expand Israel’s control over the occupied West Bank, and implement controversial exemptions for ultraorthodox men. They also allege that Netanyahu aims to use the reforms to avoid possible judgments against him in his ongoing corruption trial, an accusation he denies.

Israel’s democratic structures are already considered weak due to the absence of a constitution.

Despite previous attempts by the government to suspend the legislation in response to protests and international pressure, Netanyahu’s coalition has resumed the process, pushing some changes while abandoning others. Protests are expected to intensify, with various sectors of Israeli society, including army reservists, doctors, and CEOs of major banks, warning against the changes.

PM Modi has been flaunting his ‘bromance’ with Netanyahu since he came to power in 2014. He became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel in 2017 and since then, the defence partnership between India and Israel has grown significantly.

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