Explainer What is behind the recent protests in Israel

Explainer: What is behind the recent protests in Israel?


Around 100,000 protesters turned out in Tel Aviv on Saturday, the largest demonstration since Netanyahu’s return to power.

Around 100,000 protesters demonstrated in central Tel Aviv against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government’s plans to change the judiciary system, which protesters say will jeopardize the courts’ democratic control of ministers.

Saturday’s demonstration was the largest since Netanyahu returned to power last month at the helm of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

Why are Israelis protesting?

The plans, which the government claims are necessary to curb hyperbole by activist judges, have drawn fierce opposition from groups including lawyers and raised concerns from business leaders, deepening already deep political divisions.

The protesters say the future of Israeli democracy is at stake if the government succeeds in enforcing the plans, which would tighten political control over the appointment of judges and limit the Supreme Court’s powers to overturn government decisions or Knesset laws to declare the government unconstitutional and set aside the court’s decisions.

Not only are protesters jeopardizing the independence of judges and weakening control of government and parliament, but they say the plans will undermine the rights of minorities and open the door to further corruption.

“They want to turn us into a dictatorship, they want to destroy democracy,” said the head of the Israel Bar Association, Avi Chimi. “They want to destroy the judiciary, there is no democratic country without a judiciary.”

How did the government react?

Netanyahu has dismissed the protests, now entering their third week, as a refusal by left-wing opponents to honor the results of November’s elections.

The new government is an alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud party and a group of smaller religious and far-right nationalist parties who say they have a mandate for sweeping change.

Netanyahu has defended the proposals to change the judiciary – which are being considered by a parliamentary committee – and said they will restore a proper balance between the three branches of government.

Likud politicians have long accused the Supreme Court of being dominated by left-wing judges who they say are venturing into areas outside their authority for political reasons. Court defenders say it plays a crucial role in holding the government accountable in a country without a formal constitution.

Israelis protest in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 21, 2023 against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new right-wing coalition and its proposed judicial reforms to reduce the powers of the Supreme Court.  REUTERS/Ilan RosenbergIsraelis protest in Tel Aviv, Israel [Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters]

Where else is pressure built up?

Adding to the protests, pressure has mounted on Netanyahu’s government after the country’s attorney general called on Netanyahu to sack a key cabinet ally after the Supreme Court ruled he was barred from a government post over a tax offense conviction.

Aryeh Deri’s appointment as health and home affairs minister was deemed “extremely unreasonable” by the Supreme Court, coming just months after he was fined and resigned from his seat in parliament.

Deri was released on Sunday.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu, who is himself on trial on corruption charges, vowed to go ahead with plans to change the judiciary despite the protests.

Opponents say the changes could help Netanyahu evade conviction in his corruption trial or see the trial disappear altogether.

Netanyahu refused to step down in 2019 when he became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be impeached during his tenure.