More than 10,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to demonstrate against the government’s plan to revolutionise the country’s judicial system.
A number of groups and organisations joined forces to organise the rally which took place at Habima Square. The “Crime Minister” group, which was created after Prime Minister Netanyahu’s corruption allegations surfaced, warned that “extreme” elements in the government was trying to “harm us all.”
A number of lawmakers joined the protest on Saturday, including Labour leader Merav Michaeli, Arab Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, and former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
“Together with thousands of amazing demonstrators we went out to protest and to yell with a clear voice: we won’t allow the destruction of our country! We will continue to fight for our democracy,” Michaeli said.
The government has been under attack by civil rights groups, lawmakers, former prime ministers and former High Court Presidents for its plans to curb the powers of the High Court.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin presented the government’s plan to the public last week, which included the passing of an “override” clause that will make it impossible for the High Court to strike down any legislation passed by Knesset.
Knesset will thus only need a simple majority to pass any legislation, regardless of whether it harms civil rights or violates Israel’s Basic Laws, which are seen as the country’s substitution for an actual constitution.
The Judicial Appointments committee currently includes both politicians, High Court judges and representatives from the Bar Association. The new plan would alter the composition, making a majority of the committee government appointed representatives.
Levin’s plan also includes giving the government the powers to appoint new High Court judges, as well as eliminating what is known as the “reasonableness” standard, which currently allows the High Court to dismiss appointment of ministers deemed unreasonable.
While both Levin and Netanyahu have argued that the reforms will in fact strengthen Israel’s democracy by allowing the government greater freedom to implement campaign promises, critics have argued that it will make Israel an illiberal democracy on par with Turkey, Hungary and Poland.
Former High Court President Aharon Barak, widely revered as one of the most influential judges in Israel’s history, slammed the government’s plan in interviews with Israeli TV over the weekend, calling it a “coup with tanks.”
The plan, he said, is a “clear and tangible danger to Israeli democracy. If these plans will be realized, we’ll have a formal democracy with no balances. We’ll actually have only one branch of government, and that’s not a democracy.”
“If putting me to death would put an end to this drastic shake-up. I’d be prepared to go before a firing squad,” Barak told Channel 12, 13 and Kan Public Broadcaster.
Levin later lashed out at Barak’s philosophy on the judicial system, which is known as judicial activism, saying it “fundamentally contradicted democracy.”
Withholding PA tax money
Israel’s Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich announced on Sunday that Israel would withhold £32 million in tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority.
The punitive measure came in response to the passing of the Palestinian sponsored UN resolution, asking the International Court of Justice to give its opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The £32 million will instead be directed to Israeli families of terror victims.
“As long as the Palestinian Authority encourages terror and is an enemy, I have no interest for it to continue to exist,” Smotrich said.
“This creates significant deterrence. I project that our decision will open the way for more claims and indictments,” he added.
Smotrich, and other Israeli lawmakers, have campaigned against the Palestinian Authority’s payment to jailed Palestinian terrorists and their families.
The far-right minister also dismissed the possibility of international backlash, saying: “This is a trivial and obvious matter. Opposition to the fact that the authority pays salaries to the families of terrorists is completely accepted by the international community.”
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