Feb 13, 2023 - World

Over 100,000 protest outside Israeli parliament over judicial overhaul plan

Israeli people, holding flags, gather in front of the parliament building (Knesset) to stage a demonstration against judicial reform plans during a preliminary vote in Jerusalem on February 13, 2023

Israeli people, holding flags, rally in front of the parliament building on Feb. 13. Photo: Saeed Qaq/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

More than 100,000 people rallied in front of the Israeli parliament building on Monday in a sign that opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan is growing.

Why it matters: The right-wing government’s plan to weaken the Supreme Court and other democratic institutions has created an unprecedented constitutional crisis in Israel, with growing fears that the confrontation between the government and the opposition will escalate into violence and chaos.

  • It's also raised concerns among Biden administration officials, who worry about what the plan might mean for Israel's democracy.

Driving the news: Police estimated that over 100,000 people took part in Monday's protest, while organizers put the number closer to 250,000.

  • The demonstration came as part of a partial national strike organized by groups leading the anti-government protests.
  • The strike didn’t get the support of the workers' unions, but thousands of Israelis didn’t show up to work to protest the plan, which 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.
  • Such a law would significantly limit the Supreme Court’s ability to review laws and strike them down.

State of play: President Isaac Herzog in a speech to the nation late Sunday laid out five principles for negotiations on a compromise. He also called on the government to suspend the legislative process and enter talks with the opposition and the president of the Supreme Court.

  • Opposition leader Yair Lapid and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz accepted Herzog’s proposal within minutes, but Justice Minister Yariv Levin rejected its basic condition of suspending the legislation.
  • On Monday, the judicial and legislative committee in the Knesset voted to send the first part of the controversial legislation to a vote in the first hearing in the Knesset plenary.
  • Netanyahu later Monday criticized the protest and attacked opposition leaders for pushing the country into what he described as anarchy.
  • The committee's vote and Netanyahu's comments were seen by the opposition as signs that the government has no intention of suspending the legislation.

Amid the growing opposition, Levin and the chairperson of the judicial and legislative committee in the Knesset issued a joint statement later Monday calling on Lapid and Gantz to meet immediately under the auspices of Herzog.

  • Lapid rejected their call and said he is willing to meet only if they agree to Herzog’s principles, including the formal suspension of the legislative process ahead of any talks.

Between the lines: The opposition doesn’t trust the government’s intentions.

  • The government on the other hand doesn’t trust the opposition and thinks its demand is only a trick in order to stop the legislation without reaching a real compromise.

What to watch: The first vote in the Knesset plenary on the initial phase of the judicial plan is not expected before next Monday.

  • This opens a window of opportunity for launching negotiations.
Go deeper