Thousands of Israelis are protesting in a last-ditch attempt to stop judicial reforms

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Protesters poured into Jerusalem on Saturday as a group of 10,000 reservists said they would stop volunteering for service in a last-ditch effort to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt controversial judicial reform.

The battle over the government’s plans has plunged Israel into its deepest political crisis in years, sparking 29 weeks of mass protests, drawing criticism from US President Joe Biden’s administration and prompting warnings from Israel’s central bank that the fight is hurting the economy.

Waving Israeli flags and braving the scorching temperatures, tens of thousands of demonstrators made their way to Parliament in Jerusalem, capping a four-day march 70 km from Tel Aviv that organizers described as an attempt to “save democracy”. Protests also took place in several other cities, with one in Tel Aviv drawing some 100,000 people, according to Israeli media.

The street marches have been accompanied by growing resistance from Israeli army reservists, with a group called Brothers in Arms saying on Saturday that its 10,000 members would stop showing up for service in protest against the government’s plans.

The demonstration in Tel Aviv drew up to 100,000 people © REUTERS

The announcement followed a similar move by more than 1,100 Air Force reservists on Friday, prompting Admiral Daniel Hajjari, the military’s spokesperson, to acknowledge that “the cohesion of the military has been damaged, [in a way] Which will take a long time to fix.”

In a sign of growing dismay among senior officials about the impact of reservists’ threats, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Friday night he was taking steps to “ensure Israel’s security,” after Channel 12 reported that he was trying to persuade government and opposition leaders to delay reform and reach a compromise.

However, other government ministers, including Expatriate Affairs Minister Amichai Shekli, insisted on Saturday that the reform would go ahead as planned. Shakli also criticized reservists who refused to report for duty, likening their behavior to extortion.

“the [parliament] And the government of Israel cannot give in to threats of protection from political insurrection,” he wrote on Twitter.

The first clause of the sweeping reform – which would prevent Israel’s Supreme Court from using the criterion of “reasonableness” to overrule government decisions – is due to be voted on by Parliament next week.

Government officials say this and other changes, such as the reconfiguration of the body that appoints judges, are necessary to rein in a powerful judiciary that they believe has pursued a left-wing partisan agenda.

However, critics say the government’s proposals would remove key checks on Israeli governments, paving the way for undermining protections for minorities, fostering corruption, and harming the economy.

On Saturday, a number of former commanders in the Israeli army, the Mossad intelligence agency and the Shin Bet internal security service published a message calling on Netanyahu to delay reform, and to support the actions of the reservists.

“The legislative process violates the 75-year-old social contract between thousands of reserve commanders and soldiers,” the former security officials wrote. “[We] They raise a bright red stop sign in front of you and your government.”

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