Israeli protests reignite as Netanyahu pushes new justice bill


By Rami Amichay

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel’s business hub Tel Aviv saw the biggest anti-government protest in weeks on Saturday against a renewed push by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition to overhaul the justice system.

Tens of thousands demonstrated across the country, with the rally in Tel Aviv drawing crowds far larger than recent protests, news channels N12 News and Channel 13 reported.

Nationwide demonstrations began in January when the government announced a plan to overhaul the judiciary with a legislation package that would roll back some Supreme Court powers and give the coalition decisive sway in picking judges.

The protests subsided a little from late March when Netanyahu, under pressure at home and abroad, suspended the plan for compromise talks with opposition parties meant to reach broad agreement over justice reforms.

But, deeming the talks pointless last month, Netanyahu re-launched his government’s quest to rein in what it sees as an overreaching, left-leaning and elitist Supreme Court, though he has said the new proposals are more moderate.

Parliament is expected next week to hold the first of three votes on the first new bill, which limits some of the Supreme Court’s power to rule against decisions by the government, ministers and elected officials.

The opposition says that move is another dangerous step towards curbing judicial independence that would eventually subject the Supreme Court to politicians and open the door to corruption.

Protest leaders have said they plan to intensify demonstrations next week.

“We have no choice, we have to defend our democracy,” said Sigal Peled-Leviatan, 51, a tech worker demonstrating in Tel Aviv.

The government’s drive to overhaul the judiciary has stirred fears for Israel’s democratic health and dented the economy, with the shekel falling more than 5% since it began.

Even as he argues his innocence in a long-running corruption trial, Netanyahu has sought to ease concern among Western allies and foreign investors by saying the proposed changes will better separate the branches of government.

(Additional reporting and writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mark Potter)

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