Protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform showed no sign of abating on Saturday, despite it being suspended by the embattled premier this week, as thousands took to the streets for a 13th straight week at demand that it be completely destroyed.
Disturbed by the domestic unrest and expressions of concern and dissent in Washington, Netanyahu put the reform on hold on Monday to allow negotiations on a compromise between his religious-nationalist coalition and opposition parties.
Earlier, Netanyahu had announced that he was firing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for demanding such a pause. The sack prompted a terrible general strike.
By Tuesday, representatives of most parties in parliament had begun talks at the residence of President Isaac Herzog to try to formulate legislation that would be acceptable to both sides of the political spectrum.
Many political commentators and opponents have expressed doubts about the chances of Herzog’s mediation efforts, and the coalition government has said it would complete the legislation in the next parliamentary session if the talks fail.
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“We don’t believe anything that comes out of Bibi [Netanyahu’s] mouth We believe it’s just a political stunt aimed at stopping the protest,” said Emanuel Keller, 30, protesting outside the Israeli presidential residence that hosted the talks.
One of the main points of contention is the ruling coalition’s push for more power in appointing judges, including to the Supreme Court.
‘We don’t believe anything that comes out of Bibi’s mouth. I believe it’s just a political stunt’
– Emanuel Keller, protester
Critics see the government’s drive as a threat to the independence of the court and an attempt at a legal coup. Proponents say they are looking for a less elitist intermediary tribunal.
Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies, says reforms are needed to balance the branches of government. His Likud party and its far-right political allies are calling on their political base to stage counter demonstrations.
Israeli media estimated that more than 150,000 people attended anti-government protests across the country on Saturday, the largest in the commercial hub of Tel Aviv.
“We are going to win because this is not something we can live with. We cannot live in a state that is not democratic,” said Limor Moyal, at the Tel Aviv demonstration.