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Israeli protesters march to Jerusalem against Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan

Thousands of Israelis joined a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Friday, July 21, 2023, in the latest protest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to push through a controversial overhaul of the judiciary system. The march comes a day after Netanyahu vowed to press ahead with the plan, defying demonstrators, growing defections by military reservists and appeals from U.S. President Joe Biden to put the plan on hold.

The protesters planned to camp overnight at Shoresh, about 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Jerusalem, before making their way to Israel’s parliament on Saturday, the Jewish holy day of Shabbat. Lawmakers are expected to vote Monday on a bill that would curtail the Supreme Court’s oversight powers by limiting its ability to strike down decisions it deems “unreasonable.”

The bill has sparked widespread criticism from opposition parties, civil society groups, legal experts and international allies, who fear it would undermine the rule of law and democracy in Israel. Protesters accuse Netanyahu of subjecting the law, as part of his fight in the criminal proceedings against him. Netanyahu is facing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, which he denies.

Ronen Rosenblatt, 58, a high-tech worker who’d joined the march following months of frustration with Netanyahu’s government, described the event as jovial, with people united behind a common objective of “stopping this stupidity, this dictatorship.”

Protesters carried Israeli flags and political signs in a line four kilometers (2.5 miles) long that wound through olive orchards and farmland. They’d left seaside Tel Aviv on Thursday, camping overnight roughly halfway to Jerusalem near the Latrun Monastery. Rising on Friday to shared meals and coffee, the protesters dismantled their tents as others prayed with their arms wrapped in tefillin before they all began marching again towards Jerusalem and the Knesset.

The march was the culmination of weeks of protests that have erupted all across Israel since Netanyahu announced his judicial reform plan in June. On Thursday night, thousands of protesters blocked major highways and clashed with police in Tel Aviv, where officers used water cannons and tear gas to disperse them. Some protesters set fire to tires and trash bins, while others waved banners reading “Save the country, save democracy” and “Bibi go home.”

Supporters of Netanyahu’s plan are also scheduled to counterprotest Monday night. Netanyahu has defended his plan as necessary to restore balance and accountability in the judicial system, which he claims has overstepped its authority and interfered with the will of the people. He has also accused the protesters of being violent anarchists and leftists who are trying to topple his government.

Netanyahu’s coalition partners have expressed mixed views on the plan, with some backing it and others expressing reservations or opposition. The plan also faces legal challenges from several petitioners who have asked the Supreme Court to intervene and block it.

The U.S., Israel’s closest ally, has also expressed concern over the plan and urged Netanyahu to reconsider it. Biden spoke with Netanyahu by phone on Wednesday and stressed the importance of preserving Israel’s democratic institutions and respecting the rule of law.

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