Tens of thousands of Israelis — hoisting flags, blowing on horns and chanting “democracy” and “no to dictatorship”— protested outside the parliament building on Monday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government formally launched a contentious plan to overhaul the country’s legal system.
It was the largest protest outside the Knesset in years and reflected the deep divisions over the plan. The proposed changes have triggered weeks of mass demonstrations, drawn cries of protests from influential business leaders and former military men and even prompted a statement of concern from President Joe Biden.
Despite a plea from the nation’s figurehead president to put the legislation on hold, Netanyahu’s allies approved a series of legislative changes during a stormy committee meeting Tuesday. The vote now sends the legislation to the full parliament for a series of votes — an opening salvo in a battle expected to stretch on for weeks.
“They hear our cry. They hear the strong voice of truth,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said from the stage outside parliament. “They hear it and they’re afraid.”
Netanyahu and his supporters say the proposed changes are needed to rein in a judiciary that wields too much power. But his critics say the judicial overhaul is tantamount to a coup and will destroy Israeli democracy. They also say that Netanyahu, who is on trial for a series of corruption charges, has a conflict of interest.
The protesters came from across the country. Organizers said that upwards of 100,000 people were in attendance. Trainloads of people arrived in Jerusalem on packed trains, streaming up escalators in the city’s main train station chanting, “democracy,” cheering and whistling, and waving the national flag.—AP