Disputed Israeli judicial reform provision passed amidst protesters

Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition allies approved the bill in a Knesset vote boycotted by opposition lawmakers.

In Jerusalem on Monday, protesters were blocking a road and Israeli police used water cannons to clear them away. The protest was in opposition to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to reform the legal system.(AP)

In spite of months of widespread demonstrations and reservations expressed by its closest ally Washington, Israel’s hard-right government on Monday managed to get a crucial provision of its contentious judicial reform package through parliament.

The bill was passed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition allies in a Knesset vote that opposition MPs boycotted and some of them yelled “shame, shame.”

Critics assert that by removing checks and balances on the Israeli administration, the judicial reform could pave the way for a more authoritarian regime.

Israel’s steadfast friend in the past Washington has expressed worry about the political unrest on numerous occasions and called Monday’s vote “unfortunate.”

The far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that make up Netanyahu’s coalition government claim that the planned amendments are necessary to achieve a greater balance of power.

With 64 votes, the bill was approved by the 120-seat chamber. It intends to restrict the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn governmental policies that the judges find to be “unreasonable.”

Since the reform package was revealed by the government in January, it has led to one of the largest protest movements in Israel’s history.

In response to the parliamentary decision, the Histadrut trade union confederation threatened a national strike and urged the administration to begin talks with the opposition.

Chairman of the Histadrut Arnon Bar-David issued a statement warning that “any unilateral progress of the reform will have serious consequences.”

I will convene the leaders of the leading organizations in the trade union confederation over the next few days to prepare for the possibility of calling a nationwide strike, he continued.

Histadrut’s walkout in March forced Netanyahu to halt the legislative process within hours, opening the door for cross-party negotiations that ultimately broke down.

“Slim majority”

Demonstrators outside parliament booed, pounded drums, blew horns, and screamed “shame” as lawmakers convened inside.

The vote happened hours after 73-year-old Benjamin Netanyahu returned to the Knesset just one day after having surgery to implant a pacemaker.

Police used water cannons and mounted police to disperse the crowd of protesters outside the parliament.

“It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority,” a statement said.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, just back from a Washington trip, had gone to Netanyahu’s hospital room on Sunday in a last-minute effort to reach a compromise.

Herzog had before warned that Israel was facing a “national emergency” after attempting but failing to mediate negotiations after half a year of significant street rallies.

The reform’s main proponent and Justice Minister Yariv Levin claimed that the government had adopted a “cautious path.”

No cause for concern exists regarding this modification. At the conclusion of a protracted debate leading up to the vote, he addressed the legislature, “There are many reasons to consider it as a significant step in restoring the balance between the two branches.

The minister stated that he wants to “reach an agreement” on the larger reform package since it is “in the national interest” after the legislation was passed.

However, Yair Lapid, the head of the opposition, referred to Monday’s legislative action as “a defeat for Israeli democracy.”

Another protester, teacher Avital Mesterman, vowed to “do whatever I can do democratically” and keep protesting.

“I feel that we’re going down, but I feel optimistic because of all the people that are here,” said the 42-year-old, who had travelled from Tel Aviv to join the Jerusalem rally.

The US president has “expressed his views that major changes in a democracy, to be enduring, must have as broad a consensus as possible,” according to the White House.

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