ISRAEL: On Monday, Israel’s parliament approved the initial bill of a judicial overhaul, a key objective of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after last-minute attempts at compromise collapsed and failed to relax a constitutional crisis that has been gripping the nation for months.
The amendment, which restricts the Supreme Court’s authority to nullify certain government decisions it considers “unreasonable,” was passed with a 64-to-0 vote after opposition lawmakers left the session in protest, with some of them yelling, “For shame!”
Early in the day, protests against the amendment commenced, during which police removed demonstrators who had chained themselves to posts, obstructing the road outside parliament. By evening, the number of protesters had swelled, with thousands rallying in various parts of the country, blocking highways, and clashing with police. It The Israeli police said at least 19 individuals were detained on Monday.
Despite the widespread demonstrations, the government remained resolute in its stance. Yariv Levin, the Justice Minister and a key figure behind the legislative package, which Netanyahu emphasised as necessary for achieving a better balance among the branches of government, described Monday’s vote as the “first step” in the process.
The amendment is a part of broader judicial changes the administration announced in January, shortly after it took office. The government claims that these changes are necessary to counteract the Supreme Court’s alleged overreach and excessive political meddling.
However, critics say that changes could lead to potential abuses of power by weakening the existing checks on executive authority. These planned changes have sparked widespread and unprecedented protests across the country and raised concerns among international allies about the state of Israel’s democratic principles.
Shortly after the vote, a political watchdog group and the centrist opposition leader announced their intention to challenge the law in the Supreme Court.
In a televised statement made after sundown while protests were ongoing, Netanyahu expressed his commitment to engage in dialogue with the opposition. He aimed to reach a comprehensive agreement by the end of November, addressing the concerns raised.
“We all agree that Israel must remain a strong democracy, that it must continue protecting individual rights for everyone, that it will not become a state of (Jewish law), that the courts will remain independent,” stated Netanyahu, who had been discharged from the hospital earlier that day after receiving a pacemaker.
The crisis has led to a significant division within Israeli society, even reaching the military, where protest leaders are expressing concern that numerous volunteer reservists may refuse to fulfil their duties if the government proceeds with its plans. Former high-ranking military officials have also cautioned that Israel’s preparedness for war could be jeopardised.
Protesters gathered in Jerusalem and took action by blocking a highway near the parliament building. Law enforcement intervened, forcibly removing the protesters by dragging them across the asphalt and using water cannons, one of which dispersed a noxious substance.
Inbar Orpaz, aged 36, expressed her thoughts amidst the crowd outside the parliament, stating, “It’s a sad day for Israeli democracy… We’re going to fight back.”
In Tel Aviv, the police on horseback attempted to disperse a gathering on the main highway where protesters had ignited small fires.
In a separate incident outside the city, a driver deliberately drove into a small crowd that was obstructing a road, resulting in light injuries to three individuals. The police confirmed that the driver was subsequently arrested.
Following the passing of the law, the White House reiterated its call for Israel’s leaders to engage in political dialogue and strive for a broad consensus.
After the vote in Knesset, Tel Aviv’s primary stock indices experienced a significant drop of up to 2.5%, and the shekel depreciated by 1% against the dollar. Leaders from the opposition vowed to contest the changes.
The head of the Histadrut labour federation warned of a potential general strike if the government pursued “unilateral” action after unsuccessful attempts to mediate a compromise between the religious-nationalist coalition and opposition parties.
A prominent figure within the opposition, Benny Gantz, assured that they would reverse the legislation, while opposition leader Yair Lapid stated, “This government can win the battle but not the war.”