Protests across Israel as Netanyahu’s government introduces bill to weaken courts

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Protesters blocked roads in cities across Israel during demonstrations Monday as the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu introduces a controversial judicial overhaul bill.

Demonstrators in Jerusalem turned the streets around the Supreme Court and Knesset into a sea of Israeli flags, which organizers were handing out before the event began.

Among the protesters were a few dozen women dressed in long red dresses and white head coverings, like handmaids in the Margaret Atwood novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” along with drummers, horn-blowers and at least one juggler balancing an Israeli flagpole on his nose.

The Jerusalem demonstration was visibly smaller than one in the same location a week earlier, but still appeared to number in the tens of thousands.

The judicial overhaul bill is due for the first of three readings in parliament, the Knesset, on Monday, despite weeks of protests and calls from Israel’s President Isaac Herzog and the United States to delay the legislation and negotiate.

Demonstrators dressed as handmaids from the dystopian book

Netanyahu’s coalition is seeking the most sweeping overhaul of the Israeli legal system since the country’s founding. The most significant changes would allow a simple majority in the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court rulings.

The reforms also seek to change the way judges are selected, and remove government ministries’ independent legal advisers, whose opinions are binding.

US President Joe Biden has expressed concerns over the reforms, saying: “The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary. Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu defended the judicial reform.

“Israel is a democracy and will remain a democracy, with majority rule and proper safeguards of civil liberties,” he said during an address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“All democracies should respect the will of other free peoples, just as we respect their democratic decisions.

“There’s been a lot of rhetoric that is frankly reckless and dangerous, including calls for bloodshed in the streets and calls for a civil war. It isn’t going to happen. There’s not going to be a civil war,” the Prime Minister added.

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