Protests Erupt After Netanyahu Rejects Judiciary Plan Criticism

Prime minister tells nation he won't budge on bill, which is headed for a vote Monday in Parliament
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 20, 2023 5:15 PM CDT
Protests Erupt After Netanyahu Rejects Judiciary Plan Criticism
A person wears the Israeli national flag on Thursday in Tel Aviv while protesting plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system.   (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday vowed to press ahead with his contentious judicial overhaul, despite unprecedented mass protests at home, growing defections by military reservists and appeals from the US president to put the plan on hold. Netanyahu's message, delivered in a prime time address on national television, set the stage for stepped-up street protests in the coming days leading up to a vote in Parliament expected Monday. After Netanyahu's speech, protesters blocked Tel Aviv's main highway for several hours, lighting bonfires and clashing with the police. Hundreds of others continued a roughly 45-mile march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the AP reports.

Netanyahu was at times conciliatory during his address, saying he understands the differences of opinion that have bitterly divided the country and offering to seek a compromise with his political opponents. But he was also defiant, saying his opponents were bent on toppling him and lashing out at the scores of military reservists who say they will stop reporting for duty if the plan is passed. Some have already quit. "The refusal to serve threatens the security of every citizen of Israel," Netanyahu said. The bill would curtail the Supreme Court's oversight powers by limiting its ability to strike down decisions it deems "unreasonable." The reasonability standard is meant as a safeguard to protect against corruption and improper appointments of unqualified people.

Netanyahu and his allies say the plan is needed to curb what they consider excessive powers of unelected judges. Critics say it will concentrate power in the hands of Netanyahu and his far-right allies and undermine the country's system of checks and balances. They also say Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, has a conflict of interest. The proposal has prompted appeals from President Biden for Netanyahu to slow down and forge a national consensus before passing legislation. After the speech, opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to defy his coalition allies and halt the legislation. "This extremist group has no mandate to turn Israel into a messianic and nondemocratic state," Lapid said. "The Netanyahu government is waging a war of attrition against the citizens of Israel."

(More Israel stories.)

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