Thousands rally, block highways as final vote on Israeli judicial overhaul looms

Thousands rally, block highways as final vote on Israeli judicial overhaul looms
With Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right coalition government pressing ahead with an allegedly 'authoritarian' judicial overhaul, Israeli protesters are taking part in widespread acts of civil disobedience to stop what they call a 'judicial coup'.
3 min read
18 July, 2023
Thousands of Israelis are taking part in protests and civil disobedience against Netanyahu's judicial overhaul [Getty]

Israeli protesters blocked highways and briefly mobbed the stock exchange on a "Day of Disruption" on Tuesday as legislators prepared to ratify one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's disputed judicial bills before parliament goes on summer recess.

Thousands poured onto the streets in rallies across the country, many waving Israeli flags, and police reported at least a half-dozen highways had been blocked.

Dozens entered the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, tossing fake banknotes as symbols of corruption. Medics said one woman was hit by a car on a highway and injured.

The reform drive - cast by opponents as curbing court independence and by Netanyahu as balancing branches of government - has set off a half-year-long constitutional crisis and contributed to U.S. concern about his far-right coalition.

'No to dictatorship'

With the premier wielding a comfortable Knesset majority, opponents are hoping a fresh wave of protest can help scupper the legislation before final voting next week.

"We are here to say to Israel's government: The more you press, the harder we resist," Jonathan Eran Kali, a 62-year-old retired tech worker, told Reuters at a demonstration outside the Habimah Theatre in Tel Aviv.

"We are saying no to dictatorship," added Kali, who was wearing a hydration pack as a precaution against scorching heat.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the government was proceeding with reforms in "measured steps while continuing to call for broad consensus".

He deemed the protesters "a vocal few, inflated by the media".

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A group describing itself as military reservists opposed to the judicial overhaul attempted to block the entrance to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) in Tel Aviv. Some reservists have threatened not to heed call-up orders as part of the protest.

That drew a rebuke from top general Herzi Halevi, after Netanyahu on Monday pledged to crack down on insubordination.

"Whoever is currently advocating non-attendance harms the IDF and also harms national security," Halevi told a Knesset oversight panel.

In a delaying tactic, the parliamentary opposition filed 27,000 objections to a coalition bill that would limit the Supreme Court's ability to void government decisions or appointments by stripping the judges of the power to deem such decisions "unreasonable".

Still, the coalition looked set to bring the bill to the plenum on Sunday for final votes before the July 30 recess.

Supporters of the bill have described it as in keeping with a 2020 lecture by a Supreme Court justice, Noam Sohlberg, in which he voiced misgivings about some "reasonableness" rulings.

But Sohlberg on Monday distanced himself from the bill, saying in a statement: "I did not have legislation in mind."