Tens of thousands of Israelis have been protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system, which they say will undermine democracy and the rule of law.
The protests, which have been going on for weeks, reached a peak on Saturday, March 24th, 2023, when about half a million people gathered in Tel Aviv. They waved Israeli flags and chanted slogans such as “Israel will not be a dictatorship” and “Netanyahu go to jail”.
The protesters accuse Netanyahu of trying to weaken the courts and evade justice, as he faces an ongoing corruption trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing and says the trial is politically motivated.
Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul consists of several bills that would give the parliament, the Knesset, more power to overrule Supreme Court decisions, appoint judges and limit judicial review of government actions. Critics say these changes would erode the separation of powers and the checks and balances that are essential for a democratic system.
The protests have also spread to other regions and countries, as Netanyahu faces international criticism for his judicial reforms. On Friday, he was met by hundreds of protesters outside 10 Downing Street in London, where he was visiting for talks with British Prime Minister. The protesters were organized by British Jews and Israelis under the banner “Defend Against Democracy”.
Netanyahu has dismissed the protests as a refusal by left-wing opponents to accept the results of November’s election, which gave him a narrow victory and a coalition with right-wing and religious parties. He has defended his judicial reforms as necessary to restore a proper balance between the three branches of government and curb judicial overreach by unelected judges.
The protests have exposed deep divisions in Israeli society between secular and religiously observant, and between liberals and nationalists. While the protesters have packed the streets in Tel Aviv, they have been largely ignored or opposed by many Israelis who support Netanyahu or see him as the best option for Israel’s security and stability.