Israeli protesters stage ‘day of disruption’ against controversial judicial overhaul


Jerusalem
CNN

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Israel on Tuesday in the biggest week-long protest in months against renewed government moves. The judicial system of the country should be reformed.

They disrupted traffic in Tel Aviv, caused chaos at Ben Gurion Airport, marched on the Supreme Court in Jerusalem and lined Mediterranean beaches.

Photos and videos released by Israeli police of demonstrators on the streets in cities across the country, including Haifa, Petach Tikva, Be’er Sheva, Hod Hasharon and elsewhere. At least 66 people had been arrested by 2:50 p.m. local time (7:50 a.m. ET), seven of whom had already been released, Israel Police said in a statement.

Lawmakers on Monday voted to strip the Supreme Court of its power to declare government actions “unreasonable” in the first of three votes needed for the controversial bill to become law.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Members of the security forces remove a protester blocking the highway leading to Jerusalem.

The bill is part of a series of judicial reforms aimed at weakening the judiciary. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies call the measures “reforms” and say they should rebalance powers between the courts, lawmakers and the government. But opponents of the plan say it threatens to turn Israel into a dictatorship by removing a vital check on government operations.

Massive protests against the agenda have been taking place in the country since the beginning of this year. Netanyahu suspended the legislative process in March following an unprecedented general strike that shut down much of Israel’s economy. Monday’s vote marks the end of that moratorium.

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A major protest is taking place in cities across Israel, the latest in a series of demonstrations against the judicial overhaul that have lasted months and disrupted life in the country.

Organizers said they blocked the Ayalon highway, Tel Aviv’s main thoroughfare, on Tuesday, and vowed that police would not be able to remove it because of the number of protesters.

A photographer for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was pushed to the ground before being led away by police at a protest in Haifa, northern Israel, on Tuesday morning, video from the scene shows.

The video shows him telling police he works for Haaretz, one of Israel’s most popular newspapers. Haaretz tweeted the video and said the photographer was assaulted by police, detained and released moments later.

Protesters around him could be heard chanting “shame” – a common chant at anti-reform protests – as he was led away. Israel police said the photographer blocked a road, “behaved in a disruptive manner” and pushed police officers before he was taken into custody.

He “shouted and disturbed. As a result, he was pushed towards the pavement. In response, the journalist pushed back against law enforcement officers, who had to use force to remove him from the scene. We note that he was released immediately,” the Israel Police Spokesperson’s Department said in a statement.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Protests erupted throughout the year in Israel against the plans.

In March, amid widespread strikes and protests and mounting international pressure, Netanyahu was forced to back away from his controversial plans to overhaul the country’s judiciary.

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That delay followed an unprecedented general strike that shut down transportation, universities, restaurants and retailers. Netanyahu also faced rare expressions of concern about his plans from key allies, including the United States.

But Netanyahu didn’t drop the agenda — he just delayed it until a future Knesset session. He has now returned to the controversial venture, sparking outrage in the country.

The Knesset voted Monday night to introduce a bill that would strip the Supreme Court of its power to declare government decisions unfair — the first of three votes needed for the bill to become law. The second and third are scheduled for July 24.

If it passes those votes, it will become the first piece to become law.

Judicial reform is a set of bills that, at its core, would give the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and the parties in power, greater control over Israel’s judiciary.

From how judges are elected to what laws the Supreme Court decides, the changes will reflect a historic shake-up of Israel’s judiciary.

The most controversial aspect of Netanyahu’s proposed changes last month — a provision that would allow the national assembly, the Knesset, to overturn Supreme Court rulings — Abandoned and cannot be returned.

But even if that element doesn’t return, the package still contains a number of controversial changes, including changing the composition of the panel that selects judges so that the government of the day will have effective control; removal of independent legal advisers from government ministries – whose decisions are binding; and stripped the Supreme Court of its power to declare government decisions “unfair”.

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Maya Allerusso/AP

Netanyahu argued that the Supreme Court does not represent the Israeli people.

Israel has no written constitution, only a semi-constitutional set of basic laws, and no check on the power of the Knesset. Except the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu and his supporters have argued that the Supreme Court has become an isolated, elitist body that does not represent the Israeli people. They argued that the Supreme Court had overstepped its role and waded into issues it was not supposed to adjudicate.

Critics said Netanyahu was pushing the change forward because of his own corruption probe, where he faces charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.

His detractors said the overhaul initially proposed would have gone too far and would have completely destroyed the only way to provide checks and balances to the Israeli legislative branch.

Netanyahu supported restructuring plans, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria tells In April, “the big challenge is to bring it back to the balance that is accepted in most democracies, without going to the side of actually removing the checks and balances on majority power.”

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