Tens of thousands of Israeli citizens have flooded the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities on Saturday to voice their opposition against proposed legal reforms that they fear could lead to an increasingly authoritarian government.
For weeks, demonstrators have sustained their momentum through weekly rallies, targeting the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took office in December leading a coalition with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right allies.
Israeli media outlets estimated the turnout at the Tel Aviv protest, which marked the 27th demonstration since the reform agenda was unveiled in January, to be around 150,000 people. This rally preceded a pivotal parliamentary vote scheduled for Monday regarding a crucial provision of the proposed overhaul.
Official figures from the police regarding the number of demonstrators were not immediately available.
Prominent historian Yuval Noah Harari addressed the rally, stressing the need for action against the Netanyahu government’s policies, which he believes are detrimental to the country and the Israeli dream. Harari warned that if the government fails to change its course, it will face the consequences of a frustrated public.
During the protest in the coastal city, police employed water cannons to disperse approximately 100 demonstrators who had blocked a major highway, according to an AFP journalist present at the scene.
The government argues that the judicial reform, which seeks to grant politicians more authority over the courts, is necessary to establish a more balanced distribution of power. The proposed legislation’s first reading is scheduled for Monday, following unsuccessful negotiations with the opposition after Netanyahu announced a temporary pause in late March to facilitate discussions.
One significant aspect of the reform would curtail the judiciary’s ability to determine the “reasonableness” of government decisions. This provision could impact the appointment of ministers, as illustrated by the Supreme Court’s involvement in January, leading to the dismissal of cabinet member Aryeh Deri due to a prior conviction for tax evasion.
Protest organizers have declared Tuesday as a day of widespread demonstrations against the proposed reforms.
Amit Lev, a 40-year-old tech executive, emphasized the urgency of halting the current trajectory, warning that failing to do so would result in irreversible consequences. Lev argued that the draft law scheduled for introduction on Monday is part of a larger series of interconnected laws, each paving the way for the next, with the ultimate objective of preventing the judiciary from scrutinizing government decisions that fall outside the scope of existing laws.
Nira, a 59-year-old physiotherapist who preferred not to disclose her last name, expressed deep concerns about the potential impact of the legislation on their way of life. She voiced unease about the future of the country and the implications of the proposed law, stating that if it passes, it would severely limit their personal freedoms and choices.