Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure to stop a government plan to remake Israel’s court system. Protests against the plan are growing, and if the protests escalate, chaos could ensue.
Netanyahu has proposed a package of reforms that would reduce the power of the Supreme Court and expand the authority of lower courts. The plan has been criticized widely by legal experts, opposition parties, and members of Netanyahu’s coalition, who argue it is an attempt to strengthen his political position by curtailing judicial independence. The prime minister has defended his proposal as necessary for streamlining Israel’s court system, which many consider outdated and inefficient. But opponents note that some aspects of Netanyahu’s reform package could be used to interfere with court rulings related to corruption cases against him — leading many in Israel to view the push for change through a more cynical lens. As public anger over the issue grows, thousands have recently taken to the streets across the country in protest against Netanyahu’s attempt at restructuring Israel’s judiciary branch. Demonstrators are calling on lawmakers to reject this initiative and take action against what they see as rampant government corruption during Netanyahu’s time in office — something he denies.
Netanyahu’s opponents, who warn the judicial legislation would leave Israel without an independent judiciary system vulnerable to autocratic rule by one party or person, had been encouraged. Demonstrators fanned out from downtown squares into the high-end neighborhoods of north Tel Aviv and beyond on Wednesday evening to voice their objections. Netanyahu surrogates accused them of courting a constitutional crisis with impunity while pocketing hefty paychecks thanks to government funding they say was ill-gotten in the first place. The showdown set off political tremors that threatened to derail the prime minister’s agenda and his very goals for sustaining power.
The next day saw an unprecedented act of civil disobedience within Israel, with protesters from all walks of life coming out in full force to express their outrage at the government’s actions. Thousands gathered in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other cities, chanting slogans such as “the people demand social justice” and “Netanyahu=dictator!” Demonstrators staged sit-ins at key intersections throughout the country, blocking traffic for hours. Demonstrations resulted in several arrests, but others managed to march undisturbed through major cities.
Meanwhile, the country’s high court weighed in on the debate, issuing a ruling that cast doubt over whether such legislation would pass legal muster. Consequently, protests have escalated inside and outside the Knesset building — sparking clashes with police — as activists decried what has become known as “the tyranny of the majority.” As Netanyahu seeks to form an increasingly narrow governing coalition, critics say he is ignoring calls to preserve Israel’s constitution and undermining checks and balances to keep politicians accountable.
Fears have been further stoked by the coalition’s approval of legislation granting civil immunity to lawmakers and the new government’s declared intention to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Public protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies have ballooned, with many calling for him to step down due to multiple corruption cases he is facing, including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Some even argue that this latest move is an effort to distract public opinion from his legal woes.