Jan 11, 2023 - World

Israeli opposition calls for protests over Netanyahu's judicial reform plan

 Thousands rally in Tel Aviv to protest against Netanyahus far-right government and judicial overhaul. (Photo by Matan Golan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Thousands rally in Tel Aviv to protest against Israel's far-right government and judicial overhaul. Photo: Matan Golan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Israeli opposition is calling for mass street protests against the new government’s plan to weaken the Supreme Court and other democratic institutions.

Why it matters: The plan, announced less than two weeks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government took office, has deepened political divisions and stoked fear among some that the heightened tensions could tear Israeli society apart.

Catch up quick: Israel's Justice Minister Yariv Levin last week presented the government's plan for what he called "judicial reform." 

  • The plan, if implemented, will significantly limit the Supreme Court’s ability to review laws and strike them down.
  • The plan includes passing a law that would allow the governing coalition to override Supreme Court rulings by a simple majority of 61 votes in the 120-member Knesset.
  • It also seeks to end the Supreme Court's ability to revoke administrative decisions by the government on the grounds of "reasonability," significantly decreasing judicial oversight.

The plan envisions giving the government and the coalition in parliament absolute control over appointing judges.

  • Additionally, the plan includes changing the law so that ministers would be able to install political appointees as legal advisers in their ministries, something that is not under their authority today.

The impact: Experts say the implementation of the plan will eliminate the ability of the judicial branch to do the checks and balances against the executive and legislative branches, which are both controlled by the governing coalition.

  • The plan could also have consequences for the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli Supreme Court has been the only institution that Palestinians in the West Bank can go to defend their rights, mainly regarding land disputes with Israeli settlers.

Driving the news: Up to 10,000 people in Tel Aviv on Saturday rallied against the plan in the first demonstration organized by several popular movements. The organizers said they were surprised by the wide-ranging participation.

  • On Monday, all opposition parties announced they would join the protests and called on their supporters to participate in demonstrations planned for this Saturday in Tel Aviv and other cities.
  • Opposition leader Yair Lapid said the government’s plan is “a radical regime change” that will destroy Israel’s democracy. He also said he would fight against the planned reforms “in the streets.'
  • Calling the plan “a constitutional coup,” former Defense Minister Benny Gantz urged people to take to the streets. "It is time for the public to go out and rock the country. … If Netanyahu continues down this path, the responsibility for the civil war in Israeli society will be his," Gantz said.
  • Netanyahu, who backed Levin’s plan, called Gantz’s remarks "incitement for insurrection."

Between the lines: Levin's plan was presented as Netanyahu stands trial for fraud, breach of trust and bribery. He denies any wrongdoing.

  • The Israeli opposition has warned that Netanyahu is pushing for the new plan as part of his effort to stop the trial.

State of play: On Monday, ultranationalist National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir ordered the police to crack down on protesters by using water cannons and arresting those who try to block roads.

  • A day later, Tzvika Fogel, a lawmaker from Ben-Gvir’s party, said Lapid and Gantz should be arrested for treason. Several ministers and lawmakers from his party backed him. Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir, however, distanced themselves from this remark, but they didn’t condemn it.
  • Separately on Tuesday, anti-government protesters were allegedly attacked in the city of Beer Sheva by a Netanyahu supporter. A member of Lapid’s party who criticized the government on the radio received a phone call from a right-wing activist who allegedly threatened to kill him.

What they're saying: President Isaac Herzog issued a statement on Tuesday urging calm on "all sides." Herzog said he was working on starting a dialogue that could lead to understandings around a possible judicial reform.

  • “I will not allow the principles of our declaration of independence to be harmed, Herzog said. This is a sensitive and explosive time in Israel’s public life. … I call on all Israelis to exercise restraint and calm things down."

What’s next: Despite the protests, Netanyahu and Levin said they will push for the plan.

  • The legislation process is expected to start next week in the Knesset.
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