Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu accuses protesters of ‘trampling on democracy’


Prime Minister promises to push legislation to limit judicial powers if more than 100,000 protesters take to the streets

Monday 20 February 2023 at 16:39 GMT

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused protesters of “trampling democracy” and vowed his far-right coalition will move forward with controversial legislation to limit the powers of the judiciary.

More than 100,000 people gathered outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on Monday to protest a first plenary vote on bills that would give politicians control over the appointment of Israel’s Supreme Court and limit its ability to overturn laws. Protesters blocked major roads across the country and prevented some politicians from leaving their homes.

In a meeting with MPs from his conservative Likud party, Netanyahu condemned the movement’s leadership for “threatening us with civil war and blood on the streets.”

“The people have made their voting decisions and the people’s representatives will exercise their right to vote here in the Knesset. That’s called democracy,” said the Prime Minister.

“Today there will be a vote and I hope that tomorrow the path to dialogue will be opened.”

Netanyahu’s proposed judicial changes have been met with some of the largest protests Israel has seen in the two months since he returned to power. The demonstrations, which began in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, have spread across the country, culminating in strikes and demonstrations outside the Knesset that have lasted for two consecutive weeks while legislation was on the parliamentary agenda.

The overhaul has drawn parallels to democratic backsliding in countries like Poland and Hungary, drawing criticism from economists, Israel’s crucial high-tech sector, military and security leaders and the country’s US allies.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog has used his largely ceremonial role to plead for dialogue between the government and opposition leaders to avoid a possible slide into violence and what he called a “constitutional collapse” in a speech.

Among the proposals is a bill that would allow a simple parliamentary majority to overrule almost all Supreme Court rulings – a move that would give politicians unprecedented power in a country without a formal constitution or second legislative chamber. which can carry out other democratic control mechanisms. The changes would likely help Netanyahu avoid prosecution in his ongoing corruption trial, in which he denies all charges.

Supporters of the changes say they are necessary to better balance different branches of government and counteract a perceived left-leaning bias in the court’s decisions.

Although the judiciary changes were part of his bloc’s manifesto in last November’s election, in which the Likud and its far-right and religious partners won 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, public appetite for the overhaul as it stands is slim. Recent polls by Israeli Channel 12 found that 60% of voters want the government to stop or delay legislation.

While Monday’s vote applies to only part of the proposals and is only the first of three votes needed for parliamentary approval, the fact that it was carried out despite repeated calls for it to be postponed to allow for talks with the opposition was carried out was, viewed by many, as an act of denial and bad faith.

At a meeting of the opposition party in the Knesset on Monday, Yesh Atid and its leader Yair Lapid said that “Tonight, Israel will take the first step towards becoming a non-democratic state.”

Palestinian citizens of Israel, who face systemic discrimination, and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have long questioned the democratic nature of Israel.


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