The Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed Monday-Tuesday, in a preliminary vote, controversial legislation on reforming the judicial system.
Tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated on Monday in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest against the government’s judicial reform program, which they believe threatens democracy.
Demonstrators gathered in front of Parliament ahead of the first reading vote on legislation to change the way judges are selected in Israel.
From the demonstration in front of the Knesset Monday
In the absence of a police estimate of the number of demonstrators, several Israeli media outlets estimated that the number of protesters in the streets exceeded 40,000.
The demonstrators dispersed in the early evening as tensions mounted in the Knesset, where preliminary debates had begun ahead of a first reading vote on two bills aimed at changing the way judges are named in Israel and introducing an “extraordinary” clause allowing parliament to overturn certain Supreme Court decisions by a simple majority.
The reform also includes reducing the powers of legal advisors within the ministries.
A number of opposition MPs, wrapped in the Israeli flag, boycotted the session, shouting “shame” and were temporarily excluded from the session.
In a rare scene in Israel, demonstrators managed to storm Parliament, but two policemen managed to remove them before they reached the plenary hall.
Judicial reform is a key program in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, which took power in late December 2022.
Netanyahu during the Knesset session on Monday
Netanyahu believes that judicial reform is essential to restore balance to the branches of power, as he considers that judges have great power over elected representatives.
On Monday, Netanyahu said firmly that the protest leaders were “trampling democracy” and could not “accept the outcome of the elections.”
On the other hand, the opponents of reform, who started organizing weekly protests about two months ago, believe that the government’s goal is to seize power.
For his part, opposition leader Yair Lapid considered that the situation had developed into “the worst internal crisis Israel has ever known.”
Supreme Court justices are currently appointed by a committee comprising judges, deputies, and lawyers from the Bar Association, under the supervision of the Minister of Justice.
The amendment proposes removing lawyers from this committee, and replacing them with two citizens appointed by the Office of Justice Minister Yariv Levin.
The judges retain their membership in the committee, along with another Israeli minister.