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Judicial Reform Protests

Anti-government protests continue for fifth week, over 60,000 Israelis demonstrate across the country

Thousands of Israeli protesters rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government in Tel Aviv, Feb. 4, 2023. (Photo: Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Crowds gathered for a fifth week in cities all over Israel to protest the government’s proposed judicial reforms. 

Protests occurred in Haifa, Beersheva, Jerusalem, Kfar Saba, Modi’in and two locations in Tel Aviv, at Habima Square and on Kaplan Street.

International protests were held in Paris outside of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hotel and outside the Israeli Embassy in London.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, who attended the Haifa rally, made a reference to the ultra-Orthodox sector in Israel receiving government support, studying in Orthodox Talmudic academies and refusing to serve in the Israel Defense Forces as a matter of conscience. 

“These people in Haifa, Beersheva, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, [the protesters] came to say that they do not want to live in a country in which people who work are less important than people who don’t, and people who serve in the army are less important than those who do [not], and people who do not abide by the law are more important than people who do,” Lapid said.

The opposition leader aligned himself with the protesters as people “trying to save the country.”

“We come to protest with them, because we will not let this happen. We will fight in the streets, we will fight in the Knesset, we will fight in the courts. We will save our country because we are not willing to live in a non-democratic state,” Lapid said.

Former Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh spoke at the Tel Aviv protest that took place outside the Habima Theater. 

Alsheikh was commissioner during the investigation and the eventual recommendation to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He noted in his speech that he is fighting the reform which is directed at allowing the Knesset to overturn some Supreme Court rulings and which would grant the government full control over judicial nominations. 

Currently Supreme Court justices are selected and approved with limited consent from elected officials. The Judicial Selection Committee is comprised of nine members: The justice minister, another minister chosen by the Cabinet, two Knesset members (traditionally one from the coalition and one from the opposition), two members of the Bar Association and three current Supreme Court justices. The appointment of Supreme Court judges requires a majority of 7 of the 9 committee members.

Proposed legislation also reduces the authority of the Supreme Court to strike down Knesset laws by giving the 120-member Israeli parliament the power to override some of its rulings with a 61-seat majority, unless those rulings were unanimous by the 15 sitting justices.

According to Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the legislation would change the way judges are appointed by giving the Knesset more oversight and the government more power within the committee that selects them and is, therefore, more democratic. 

The protestors, including former commissioner Alsheikh, claim that these measures would trample on the rights of minorities by compromising the ability of the High Court of Justice to strike down legislation it deems as violating the human and civil rights stipulated in Israel’s Basic Laws. 

The Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty was approved in 1992 by a simple majority. 

In 1995, the High Court ruled that Israel's Basic Law had semi-constitutional status and that the court could subsequently annul laws passed by the Knesset if they were found to be in conflict with it.

Since then, the High Court has annulled 22 laws, or clauses, within Israeli legislation on this basis. It also reversed numerous government resolutions and administrative rulings which it deemed to violate the principles of the Basic Laws.

The court ruled against key policies of the predominantly right-wing, religious governments led by Netanyahu from 2009 to 2021. This led his allies to cry for a reining in of what they saw as the court’s increasing activism, such that it defied the will of the legislature and of the Israeli majority that elected it. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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