© Reuters. Protesters march in a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the judicial reform of his national coalition government, at the entrance to Jerusalem, near Motza, July 22, 2023 REUTERS/Dan Williams
Written by Dan Williams and Maayan Lubel
HAMID, Israel (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Israelis opposed to judicial reform sought by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marched to Jerusalem on Saturday, as pressure mounted on his right-wing government to scrap a bill that would reduce the powers of the Supreme Court.
Carrying blue and white Israeli flags, a kilometer-long column of demonstrators lifted the winding highway to Jerusalem under the scorching summer sun, to the sounds of beating drums and anti-government chants and chants.
The government’s attempt to overhaul Israel’s judiciary has plunged the country into one of its worst political crises, sparking nationwide protests, hurting the economy and stoking anxiety among Western allies.
Protesters had been marching for days in a heatwave, camping outside at night and meeting locals offering food and drink, and their number swelled when they reached the city gates in an unprecedented scene.
They plan to gather outside Parliament ahead of Sunday’s debate and subsequent vote on the bill, which would limit the Supreme Court’s powers to overrule what it deems “unreasonable” government or ministerial decisions.
Netanyahu’s national religious coalition says the bill, which parliament is due to vote on by Monday, is needed to balance the powers of the PA because the court has become too intrusive.
Critics say the amendment speeds up parliament and will open the door to corruption and abuse of power.
Polls indicate widespread concerns among Israelis, and Washington has urged Netanyahu to seek consensus on any judicial reforms that would also preserve the independence of Israel’s judiciary.
The crisis has sowed divisions within the military, long seen as an apolitical melting pot for a divided society, with concerns about preparation for war expressed on both sides of the debate.
Dozens of former security chiefs, including those of the army, police and Mossad, some of whom served under Netanyahu, published an open letter to the prime minister on Saturday to cancel the vote and negotiate broadly agreed reforms instead.
The letter stated, “The legislation crushes those things that are common to Israeli society, tears the people apart, dismantles the Israeli army and deals fatal blows to Israel’s security.”
Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, which he denies, has said he strives for broad agreements, placing the onus on opposition parties to make concessions.