Israeli protesters back government’s judicial overhaul

Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked a Tel Aviv highway Thursday in their first major protest in the coastal city in support of controversial judicial reforms.

After three months of tension that divided the nation, protests that inspired thousands, and a general strike, Netanyahu on Monday announced a “pause” for dialogue on the measures.

“The people want judicial reform,” chanted the protesters who numbered thousands, according to AFP journalists.

Critics of the government overhaul in Tel Aviv, a liberal stronghold and commercial center for Israel, have staged weekly demonstrations since it was announced in early January, lamenting what they see as a threat to democracy.

On Monday, before Netanyahu’s announcement, about 80,000 gathered in Jerusalem against the reform package, according to Israeli media.

A counter-demonstration attracted thousands the same day, an AFP journalist said, after Israel’s Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir insisted on attending.

Meirav Reuvan, a 52-year-old economist, said she joined Thursday’s rally in Tel Aviv to “support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yariv Levin”, the justice minister who led the efforts of the government.

“We are in a democracy,” she told AFP. “We won and it’s crazy that they won’t let us rule as the majority wants.”

The government, a coalition between Netanyahu’s Likud party and extremist and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies, argues that reforms are needed to rebalance powers between lawmakers and the judiciary.

The proposed amendments would limit the authority of the Supreme Court and give politicians additional powers in the selection of judges.

Yahel, who was supporting the reforms introduced in the Tel Aviv Rally and works in tourism, denied that Israel’s democracy is in danger.

“I think democracy is the will of the people, that’s what the people want,” said the 28-year-old from the northern city of Acre.

“The politics of the country is decided by a minority on the Supreme Court. It shouldn’t be like that.”

Israeli politicians from both sides of the aisle met this week for talks mediated by President Isaac Herzog, who said talks were taking place “in a positive spirit”.

A senior Israeli official said that Netanyahu was determined to reach a compromise to ensure that the reforms would not be affected if there is a change of government, and that the agreement appears to be in place.

Many political commentators and opposition figures have expressed doubts about the chances of Herzog’s mediation efforts.

Opponents have accused Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies, of trying to use the amendments to overturn possible judgments against him. The prime minister has rejected the accusation.

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