People hold Israeli flags during a demonstration as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist coalition government presses on with its contentious judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 11, 2023. REUTERS/Nir Elias
TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israelis packed city streets on Saturday in nationwide demonstrations now in their 10th week against plans by the hard-right government to curb the Supreme Court’s powers, which critics see as a threat to judicial independence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who says his aim is to balance out branches of government, wields a parliamentary majority along with his religious-nationalist coalition allies.
As the reforms head toward ratification, the protests have escalated. The shekel has slipped. Some military reservists have threatened not to heed call-up orders. President Isaac Herzog has appealed for the overhaul to be postponed and dialogue held.
“It’s not a judicial reform. It’s a revolution that (is) making Israel go to full dictatorship and I want Israel to stay a democracy for my kids,” said Tamir Guytsabri, 58, among tens of thousands of demonstrators who gathered in central Tel Aviv.
The protests were mostly peaceful, though Reuters witnessed some injuries and arrests among protesters when police moved in against attempts to block traffic.
National police chief, Inspector-General Yaacov Shabtai, made a rare televised announcement in which he backed off from plans to reassign the head of Tel Aviv’s police, which some feared presaged plans to crack down harder on protests.
The now-deferred reassignment was part of a scheduled rotation, Shabtai said, adding that police would continue safeguarding demonstrations kept within legal boundaries and “will not yield to any political pressure on the matter”.
Netanyahu, who returned to office for a sixth term in late December, says the demonstrations are aimed at toppling him. He is on trial in three corruption cases and denies all wrongdoing.
“I am here to protest against the reform in the law, and to protest our prime minister, who we call ‘Crime Minister’,” said demonstrator Miri Lahat, 63.