Mass protests in Jerusalem as Israeli constitutional crisis looms

Thousands demonstrated the night before the country's top judges were to determine the legality of government's proposed judicial overhaul

An aerial view shows people holding a banner in Hebrew reading "Supreme Court" as they take part in a demonstration. REUTERS
Powered by automated translation

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Monday evening as the country braced for a critical hearing on the government’s proposed judicial overhaul, the result of which could plunge Israel into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.

The country’s most senior judges will start deliberations on Tuesday on whether to overturn a key aspect of the overhaul package, which is also the first part of the proposals to be passed by parliament.

The legislation was enacted in July to revoke the “reasonableness standard” under which judges can overturn government policy on the basis of it being unreasonable.

If the court overturns the legislation and the government ignore that decision, civil servants and security chiefs will have to decide whether to act in accordance with the government or the judiciary’s stance, which could lead to a constitutional crisis.

Monday’s demonstrations took place a few days after crowds of conservative protesters turned out in support of the Netanyahu administration and its overhaul plans, which they say are needed to curtail an excessively powerful judiciary that limits the ability of governments to pass laws.

Opponents say that without the oversight of the judiciary, governments would have nothing to stop them from passing potentially illegal and anti-democratic policies.

There were also protests on Monday evening outside the Jerusalem home of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, who in December formed the most conservative government in Israeli history.

Mr Netanyahu said on Monday that he was working to reach a compromise on the reforms and that “nobody would prevent [such a deal] from being implemented”.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said talk of a potential compromise was “just an attempt to interfere in the upcoming High Court hearing”.

“The opposition will not lend a hand to such fraudulent attempts,” he said.

At the Jerusalem rally, former justice minister Tzipi Livni said protesters had gathered to protect the country's Supreme Court, “just like the Supreme Court protects Israel's citizens”.

Mr Netanyahu is also facing pressure from within his government, which includes a number of far-right ministers deeply committed to the judicial reforms on ideological grounds and suspicious that the prime minister might dilute the plans.

Far-right National Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said his coalition party was ready for dialogue but opposed “dictates and ultimatums from who lost the elections”.

It is uncertain when the High Court will issue its ruling.

Updated: September 12, 2023, 7:45 AM