Thousands of Israelis have staged protests near the parliament building in Jerusalem and across the country against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial coup, which critics say would undermine democracy and the rule of law.
The protesters, waving Israeli flags and holding signs that read “Save Israel Democracy” and “The whole world is watching”, denounced the plan that would give politicians more power over appointing judges and allow them to override Supreme Court rulings.
The plan, which was introduced by Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government in December 2022, has sparked widespread opposition from civil society groups, legal experts, opposition parties and even some members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party.
Netanyahu, who is facing trial on corruption charges that he denies, says the reforms are necessary to curb the influence of activist judges who have overstepped their authority and interfered in political matters.
But opponents say the reforms would erode the independence of the judiciary, weaken the system of checks and balances, and endanger civil liberties and human rights.
The protests on Monday coincided with a heated debate in the Knesset’s Constitution Committee, which voted to send the first chapter of the plan to the plenum for a first reading. The vote was marred by chaos and scuffles, as several opposition lawmakers were forcibly removed from the meeting.
The protests also followed a nationwide strike that was launched by Israel’s largest labor union, Histadrut, which represents about 800,000 workers in various sectors. Many businesses, schools, universities and public services joined the strike or expressed solidarity with the protesters.
Netanyahu has called for calm and dialogue, urging the protesters to “behave responsibly and not to act violently”. He has also said he is willing to consider some amendments to the plan, but has not given any details.
The plan still needs to pass three readings in the plenum and face potential legal challenges before it can become law. The opposition has vowed to continue its resistance until the plan is withdrawn or defeated.