TEL AVIV, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Israelis joined protests on Saturday against the judicial reform plans of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government which protesters say will threaten ministers’ democratic checks and balances by courts.
The plans, which the government says are necessary to curb the overreach of activist judges, have drawn fierce opposition from groups including lawyers and raised concerns among business leaders, deepening divisions policies already deep in Israeli society.
“They want to turn us into a dictatorship, they want to destroy democracy,” said Israeli Bar Association head Avi Chimi. “They want to destroy the judicial authority, there is no democratic country without judicial authority.”
Netanyahu dismissed the protests, now in their third week, as a refusal by left-wing opponents to accept the results of last November’s election, which produced one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history. ‘Israel.
Protesters say the future of Israeli democracy hangs in the balance if the government succeeds in pushing through the plans, which would tighten political control over judicial appointments and limit the powers of the Supreme Court to overrule government decisions or the laws of the Knesset.
As well as threatening the independence of judges and weakening government and parliamentary oversight, they say these plans will undermine minority rights and open the door to more corruption.
“We are fighting for democracy,” Amnon Miller, 64, said among a crowd of protesters, many of whom were waving white and blue Israeli flags. “We have fought in this country in the military for 30 years for our freedom and we will not let this government take our freedom.”
Saturday’s protests, which Israeli media said were expected to draw more than 100,000 people to central Tel Aviv, come days after the Supreme Court ordered Netanyahu to sack Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads the religious party Shas, following a recent tax conviction.
The new government, which took office this month, is an alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud party and a group of small far-right religious and nationalist parties that say they have a mandate for sweeping change.
Netanyahu, who is himself on trial on corruption charges which he denies, defended the judicial reform plans, which are currently being reviewed by a parliamentary committee, saying they will restore a fair balance between the three branches of government.
Likud politicians have long accused the Supreme Court of being dominated by leftist judges who they say encroach on areas beyond their authority for political reasons. Defenders of the court say it plays a vital role in holding the government to account in a country that has no formal constitution.
A survey released by the Israel Democracy Institute last week showed that trust in the Supreme Court was significantly higher among Israelis on the left than among those on the right, but there was no general support for weakening the powers of the Court.
Reporting by Emily Rose; Written by James Mackenzie; Editing by David Holmes and Andrew Heavens
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