JERUSALEM, Israel – Nearly 80,000 demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv this weekend to protest the Netanyahu government's plan to overhaul the country's judicial system. Demonstrators claim the proposed changes to the judicial and legal systems are a major threat.
Protest organizer Shikma Bressler explained, "A majority (in government) is one thing. I accept that. But the changes that are being proposed are going to the core of the way this country is managed and organized. And this we cannot allow."
Asaf Steinberg, a protester from Herzliya, said, "I think that the Israeli government should understand that he doesn't have a mandate to destroy Israeli democracy. That the fact that they're trying to destroy the checks and balances of the Israeli democracy – this will not work. And we will fight until the very last minute to save the Israeli democracy."
At Sunday's Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed back against the demonstrators, which included members of the Israeli left, Antifa members and people carrying Palestinian flags.
Netanyahu said, “Two months ago there was a huge demonstration in Israel, the mother of all demonstrations. Millions of people took to the streets to vote in the elections. One of the main issues they voted for is the reform in the judicial system.”
He added, referring to opposition leaders who fanned the flames of the protest last week, “I must say that when we were in the opposition, we did not call for civil war and did not speak about the destruction of the state, even when the government made decisions that we vociferously opposed. I expect the leaders of the opposition to do the same."
The judicial and legal reforms, crafted by Justice Minister Yoav Levin, are intended to give Israel's parliament, the Knesset, and the government more control over the judiciary.
One proposal would allow a simple Knesset majority the power to overturn a Supreme Court ruling, reducing the power of the Supreme Court, which many believe has overstepped its bounds in recent years. Some have even called it the most activist court in the world. One suggested compromise would be to require a special or super-majority in the Knesset to overturn a high court ruling.
The battle over the judicial system puts large segments of Israel's society at odds with each other. On one side, according to a recent poll, only 42 percent of Israelis trust the high court. On the other side, the leader of the Tel Aviv demonstration called on Isaac Herzog, Israel's president, to declare Netanyahu unfit for office.
Herzog is trying to mediate between the two camps. He said, "I am now focused on two critical roles that I believe I bear as president at this hour: averting a historic constitutional crisis and stopping the continued rift within our nation.”
The battle is likely to intensify. The leader of the Tel Aviv demonstration said it was just the beginning of a counter-attack, while the Netanyahu coalition, with a comfortable majority in the Knesset, will proceed with hearings to enact the reforms.