Despite the heightened police presence and the force used by armed forces against protesters, tens of thousands of Israelis continue to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plans to overhaul the country’s legal system, for the ninth week in a row.
Netanyahu’s far-right government is pressing ahead with plans that critics fear would weaken the Supreme Court, limit judges’ powers and threaten democratic institutions.
He is currently on trial for corruption, fraud and breach of trust charges. He and his allies say the proposed changes will rein in an unelected judiciary. The protests are being held across the country since last over two months.
On Saturday, protesters attempted to cross the barricade that blocked off the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. Police tried to obstruct those who broke through, but several thousand people made their way onto the main road and began marching.
Four people were arrested for attempting to climb down the wall onto the highway. Protesters clashed with officers; after an hour, police began to use water cannons to clear them out. Mounted police and special forces were also deployed to remove the protesters by force, Haaretz reported.
Critics accuse Netanyahu of pushing the legislation in order to get out of corruption trials he is currently facing. Netanyahu denies that, saying the trials are collapsing on their own, and that the changes are necessary after judicial overreach by unelected judges, CNN reported.
About two out of three (66%) Israelis believe the Supreme Court should have the power to strike down laws incompatible with Israel’s Basic Laws, and about the same proportion (63%) say they support the current system of nominating judges, a poll for the Israel Democracy Institute found last week.
People who say they voted for opposition parties were far more likely than voters for the parties in the coalition to oppose the changes. Nearly nine out of 10 (87%) people who voted for the opposition said the Supreme Court should have the power to strike down laws incompatible with Basic Laws, while only 44% of coalition voters said it should. The percentage was slightly higher among people who voted for Netanyahu’s Likud party, with nearly half (47%) saying the Supreme Court should have that power.
The survey, which was released on February 21, found that about half (53%) of Israelis believed that removing the political independence of the judiciary would harm Israel’s economy – as Israeli economists and businesspeople have been warning. About a third (35%) do not believe the changes would harm the economy.