Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against judicial overhaul

Demonstrators gather to protest the Israeli government's judicial overhaul bill in Tel Aviv on Saturday. AFP

Tens of thousands of Israelis took to streets across the country on Saturday to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bitterly disputed plans to tighten controls on the Supreme Court.

The overhaul includes giving the government control over naming judges to the Supreme Court and letting parliament override rulings.

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The proposals were paused after opponents organised some of the biggest street protests ever seen in Israel, now in their 18th consecutive week.

The government says the overhaul is needed to restore balance between the judiciary and elected politicians, accusing activist judges of increasingly usurping the role of parliament.

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Critics say it will remove vital checks and balances underpinning a democratic state and hand unchecked power to the government.

Five months into the far-right coalition’s term, 74 per cent of Israelis think the government is functioning poorly, according to a poll released by an Israeli public broadcaster on Friday.

Crowds gathered in central Tel Aviv on Saturday in a show of defiance against plans which they see as an existential threat to Israeli democracy.

Israel’s Channel 12 estimated 110,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv alone, with other demonstrations held in cities across the country.

Israel protests – in pictures

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“I’m very worried for my country,” protester Bental Shamir, 60, a teacher, told Reuters in Tel Aviv.

“I don’t want a corrupted country.”

The planned overhaul has been put on hold in an attempt to give time for Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who plays a largely ceremonial role, to broker a compromise between the coalition and opposition which could see the legislation softened. So far, talks have been fruitless.

“I’m sure that we are closer than we can imagine,” lawyer Dor Lasker, 35, told Reuters regarding the compromise talks. “I’m positive that it could happen.”

Protesters waved the blue and white Israeli flags that have become a hallmark of the demonstrations over the past three months.

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