TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Amid a sea of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Israeli flags at an anti-government protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday, a plain white poster protruded with a handwritten message in black: “Democracy without compromise.”
For five months now, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the street every week to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul that would give politicians greater sway over selecting judges.
It would also limit the power of the Supreme Court to strike down legislation.
The protesters can claim some success in that the plan has not been approved as quickly as Netanyahu hoped, but his government remains committed to pushing through the changes.
Under pressure at home and abroad, Netanyahu agreed to delay the overhaul to try to negotiate with the opposition a middle ground, but after shifting focus to passing a state budget last week, the highly-contested plan is again at the forefront.
Netanyahu and his far-right and religious allies say the reforms aim to redress decades of overreach by the judiciary and to balance out branches of government. Critics see a threat to independence of the courts by the prime minister, who is on trial on graft charges he denies.
Top economists and national security veterans have warned of fallout, saying an independent court system is crucial to Israel’s economic strength and defences against attempts to isolate it internationally.
Israel’s president, whose role is largely ceremonial, has been mediating between the coalition and opposition. So far nothing has emerged.
“I praise the president for his initiative and the temporary calm he managed to create, but factually, there hasn’t been progress,” said Gadi Eisenkot, an opposition lawmaker and former military chief.
Eisenkot, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, called for the proposed legislation to be frozen for a year.
The demonstrations peaked in late March when Netanyahu sacked his defence minister after he broke ranks and called for the plan to be halted. Israelis spilled into the streets in an unprecedented spontaneous nationwide protest late into the night. Netanyahu later reversed his decision.
Before the sun set on Saturday, ending the Jewish Sabbath, crowds once again gathered in Tel Aviv and other cities across Israel. With no official crowd sizes, it was hard to estimate whether the protest had less wind in its sails.
Mira Marcus-Kalish, a university researcher, said she no longer keeps track of how many protests she attended.
“I don’t even count anymore,” she said.
“Somebody has to understand that we have our children and we have to leave a reliable country for them for the future. We don’t have any other option.”
(Reporting by Rami Amichay and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)
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