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Thousands march into Jerusalem over planned judicial reforms

July 22, 2023

The protesters waved Israeli flags and chanted slogans while walking up the main highway to Jerusalem. Previously, over 1,100 air force reservists threatened to halt service over the reform pushed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tens of thousands of Israeli protesters wave the national flag during a march to Jerusalem
The marchers walked from Tel Aviv to JerusalemImage: Ohad Zwigenberg/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Tens of thousands of Israelis marched from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Saturday to protest a planned judicial overhaul that would curtail the powers of the Supreme Court. 

The protesters are set to gather outside parliament on Sunday as lawmakers debate the bill.

Israel's Supreme Court currently has the authority to void government or ministerial decisions it deems "unreasonable." But the legislation, pushed by the right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would limit the court's powers.

Why is the judicial overhaul so polarizing? 

The ruling coalition said the bill was needed to balance out the division of power as the court was intervening too often. 

Tens of thousands of Israeli protesters wave the national flag while walking along a highway to Jerusalem
The proposed judicial overhaul has sparked one of the largest protest movements in Israel's historyImage: DEBBIE HILL/newscom/picture alliance

Critics of the bill, however, suggested that the Supreme Court played a crucial role in safeguarding civil rights in a country that has no formal constitution and no upper chamber of parliament. Government opponents say the changes could lead to corruption and abuses of power.

Public opinion polls revealed widespread concerns among Israelis, with rallies against the bill growing into one of the largest protest movements in Israel's history. The government plans also raised concerns in Washington, with Israel's key ally urging Netanyahu to seek consensus on the judicial reforms.

Protests against Israel's judicial reform intensify

Air force reservists threaten to leave over proposed law

More than 1,100 Israeli air force reservists, including fighter pilots, threatened to suspend their volunteer service if lawmakers vote the bill into law next week.

"We all share a responsibility to stop the deep division, polarization and rift among the people," the reservists said in a declaration whose signatories included 235 fighter pilots, 173 drone operators, and 85 commando soldiers.

They called on the government to "arrive at a broad consensus, strengthen the trust of all parts of the people in the judicial system and maintain its independence."

What happens if the bill is approved? 

Earlier this week, Netanyahu said he was "still trying to reach an agreement with the opposition," according to the AFP news agency. Reportedly, politicians were still arguing about the "reasonability" clause that allows the judiciary to strike down government decisions.

The bill on curtailing the power of the Supreme Court is only one segment of the planned judicial overhaul. Other proposals include giving the government a greater say in the appointment of judges.

Netanyahu is currently on trial for corruption. His critics claim he is trying to use the reforms to quash possible judgments against him. He has repeatedly rejected the claims.

los/dj (dpa, Reuters)