Thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night to voice their opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to reform the judiciary and curb the power of the Supreme Court. The protesters, waving blue and white Israeli flags and holding signs that read “Save democracy” and “Let my people go”, accused Netanyahu of undermining the rule of law and the separation of powers in Israel.
The demonstration was the latest in a series of protests that have rocked Israel since January, when Netanyahu’s new coalition government announced its intention to pass a series of bills that would give the government more control over the appointment of judges, allow parliament to override court rulings, and limit the court’s ability to review laws and policies. The government says the reforms are necessary to restore the balance between the branches of government and prevent judicial activism. The opposition and civil society groups say the reforms are an attempt by Netanyahu to evade prosecution on corruption charges and cement his grip on power.
The protest in Tel Aviv was attended by tens of thousands of people, according to local media estimates, making it one of the largest anti-government rallies in recent years. Among the speakers were former Supreme Court justices, opposition leaders, prominent intellectuals, and representatives of various sectors of society, such as army reservists, academics, businesspeople, and artists. They called on Netanyahu to respect the independence and integrity of the judiciary and warned that his plans would endanger Israel’s democracy and reputation.
The protest came amid heightened security concerns following two deadly attacks on Friday that killed three Israelis and an Italian tourist and wounded several others. One attack involved a car-ramming in Tel Aviv that was claimed by a Palestinian group, while the other involved a shooting near a settlement in the occupied West Bank that was blamed on Hamas. Netanyahu has ordered additional security measures and vowed to respond with force to any further violence.
The protest also coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which has seen increased tensions around Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a flashpoint site revered by both Muslims and Jews. On several nights this week, Israeli police clashed with Palestinian worshippers at the site, prompting rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and Lebanon.
The protest organizers said they would continue their campaign until Netanyahu drops his judicial overhaul plans or resigns from office. They also announced plans for another mass rally in Jerusalem next week