Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, gave a televised speech on Thursday evening in which he said he would move forward with his hotly contested judicial reform plan, despite enormous protests that have been going on since January and which were repeated yesterday in various Israeli cities. The reform would like to remove powers from the Supreme Court, which has an exceptionally important role in Israel, to entrust them to the government. During his speech, Netanyahu said that the reform serves to “strengthen democracy” with a better balance between elected legislators and unelected judges, and added: “we do not want a controlled court, but a balanced court”.
Thursday’s protests involved thousands of people and led to 75 arrests: they had already been underway since Wednesday, but intensified after the approval of a first part of the reform, i.e. a law that reduces the chances of declaring the prime minister unfit to his role. With the new law, in fact, the attorney general will no longer be able to remove Netanyahu from his office, a possibility that has been discussed in recent days: Netanyahu is in fact accused of corruption in some trials, and the attorney general Gali Baharav-Miara had mentioned the possibility that he would be declared unsuitable for his position due to the evident conflict of interest of his position.
The law was approved by parliament after hours of very intense debate, with 47 votes against and 61 votes in favor: the bare minimum, given that the Israeli parliament has 120 seats.
The justice reform proposed by Netanyahu is contested because in Israel, where there is no real constitution, the Supreme Court is one of the few counterweights to the power of the government in office at the moment: those who contest the reform therefore believe that taking away its powers is a danger to Israeli democracy.
On Thursday, after the approval of the law, some organizers of the protests had said they wanted to “paralyze” the country. There were clashes between demonstrators and the police, who used water cannons to try to disperse the protests, once again very participatory and transversal: they involved school and university students, workers from various sectors and pensioners.
Among other things, protesters occupied and blocked major roads with burning tires, including one of Tel Aviv’s main roads and the entrance to the port of Ashdod, further south. Some helipads near Caesarea, where Netanyahu has a home, have also been blocked. Another group of protesters protested outside a convention center near Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv where a government minister was attending a meeting. In Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv neighborhood inhabited mainly by ultra-Orthodox Jews, some residents fired fireworks from the buildings towards the demonstrators: there are no reports of injuries. There were also clashes in Petah Tikva, also close to the capital, between protesters and several Netanyahu supporters.
– Read also: Judicial reform in Israel, explained
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