© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watches lawmakers gather in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, for a vote on a controversial plan to overhaul the country’s legal system, in Jerusalem February 20, 2023. Maya Alleruzzo/Pool through R
By Mayan Lubell
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police fired stun grenades in Tel Aviv as scuffles erupted across the country on Wednesday in a “day of disruption” as lawmakers made judicial changes that opponents consider as a threat to democracy.
“Israel is not a dictatorship, Israel is not Hungary,” shouted protesters blocking the main highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, waving blue and white Israeli flags.
Tel Aviv police on horseback tried to stop protesters from breaking through the barricades as traffic piled up. Live footage showed police dragging protesters off the road as protesters shouted ‘shame’ and ‘we are the majority and we are in the streets’. At least nine people were arrested, police said.
Protests were expected to intensify in what protest organizers called a day of disruption. Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said he would not allow “anarchists” to block the roads.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition government proposed what it described as reform of the justice system in January.
This includes giving lawmakers from the ruling coalition decisive influence in the selection of judges and limiting the power of the Supreme Court to strike down legislation or rule against the executive.
In parliament, the Knesset’s Constitution, Justice and Laws Committee gave initial approval to other proposals in the plan, in a vote boycotted by opposition lawmakers.
Critics say the proposals undermine judicial independence, given that Israel has no constitution and only one house of parliament is controlled by the coalition.
The plan has not yet been enshrined in law, but it has already affected the Israeli shekel and raised concerns among some Western allies about the health of democracy.
“Slow down a bit, maybe bring people together, try to build consensus,” US Ambassador Tom Nides said Tuesday at Tel University’s Institute for National Security Studies conference. Aviv.
Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges which he denies, says the changes will restore balance between the branches of government and boost business. Economists and legal experts said they would isolate Israel and wreak havoc on the economy.
Polls have shown the plan is unpopular with most Israelis who would prefer a compromise to be reached. Warning that the country was on the brink of “constitutional and social collapse”, President Isaac Herzog is pushing for an agreed deal.