TEL AVIV, Jan 21 (Portal) – Tens of thousands of Israelis took part in demonstrations on Saturday against judicial reform plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, which protesters say will threaten the democratic control of ministers by the courts.
The plans, which the government says are necessary to curb hyperbole by activist judges, have drawn fierce opposition from groups including lawyers and raised concerns from business leaders, widening the already deep political divisions in Israeli society.
“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.”
Netanyahu has dismissed the protests, now entering their third week, as a refusal by left-wing opponents to honor the results of last November’s elections, which produced one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history.
The protesters say the future of Israeli democracy is at stake if the government succeeds in enforcing plans that would tighten political control over judge appointments and limit the Supreme Court’s powers to overturn government decisions or Knesset laws .
The plans would not only threaten the independence of judges and weaken control of government and parliament, but also undermine the rights of minorities and open the door to further corruption.
“We are fighting for democracy,” said Amnon Miller, 64, amidst a crowd of protesters, many of whom carried white and blue Israeli flags. “We fought for our freedom in the army in this country for 30 years and we will not let this government take our freedom.”
Saturday’s protests, which Israeli media said are 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 heads the religious Shas party of a recent tax conviction.
The new government that took office this month 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, who himself is on trial on corruption charges he denies, has defended judicial reform plans currently under review by a parliamentary committee, saying they would 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.
A poll released last week by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that trust in the Supreme Court was significantly higher among left-wing Israelis than right-wing Israelis, but that there was no general support for weakening the court’s powers.
Reporting by Emily Rose; writing by James Mackenzie; Edited by David Holmes and Andrew Heavens
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