Israeli protesters rally across country against judicial overhaul



Tens of thousands of Israeli protesters staged rallies across the country on Tuesday, in the largest weekday protest in months against the hard-right government's plan to overhaul the judiciary.

Despite the scorching summer heat, scores of Israelis took to streets, highways and junctions in major cities to hold protests in what they called a day of "disruption."

They were protesting against a key bill in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to overhaul the legal system. The bill, which passed the first out of three rounds of voting in the parliament overnight Monday, aims to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning government decisions on the grounds of "reasonability."

In January, the Supreme Court used this standard to cancel the appointment of Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and a key member in Netanyahu's coalition, as a minister because of his conviction for tax fraud in 2022.

The bill was widely criticized by legal experts. Avichai Mandelblit, Israel's former attorney-general, said in an interview with Channel 12 TV news that Israel "has come to the threshold of becoming a dictatorial state."

The protests began in the morning, with rallies held in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Herzliya, Beersheba, Eilat, and other cities.

The police used water cannons on the protesters in several locations. Videos on social networks showed policemen pushing protesters to the ground and punching them.

Two photographers with Ha'aretz newspaper and Yediot Aharonot, two of the country's leading daily newspapers, were briefly arrested. One of them was handcuffed and the other beaten, as shown in a video of their arrests.

In the afternoon, about 20,000 demonstrators, as estimated by the organizers, gathered at the main entrance of Ben Gurion Airport, Israel's main international airport, waving the blue-and-white flags of Israel. The police deployed around 1,000 officers, who in some cases clashed with the demonstrators.

According to Channel 13 TV reports, at least 19 demonstrators were injured and required hospital care. By the evening, the police said in a statement that at least 76 protesters had been arrested.

Over 400 Air Force reserve soldiers, including pilots, held a meeting to discuss the possibility of joining the other reserve soldiers who already announced their intention to refuse service if the government proceeded with the judicial overhaul.

In a public speech on Tuesday night, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called for "an end to the calls for refusal," citing that they "hurt the military, the security system, and Israel's security."

Netanyahu maintains that reform is needed in order to curb what he calls the "overly activist" Supreme Court.

The grassroots movement, which includes prominent legal experts, economists, hi-tech entrepreneurs, and former senior security officials, has been holding protests against the judicial overhaul for 27 consecutive weeks.

Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader, returned to office last December, leading a rightist government coalition consisting of ultranationalist and ultra-religious parties.

(Xinhua News Agency)