What explains day of historic protests in Israel

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets on Saturday against proposed judicial reform seen by critics as the “end of democracy” in the country.

Reform proposal is seen as a threat to the separation of powers and a hard blow to Israel’s democracy

Photo: Reuters / BBC News Brazil

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis protested on Saturday (11/3) against the government’s plans to reform the judiciary – what is seen by critics as an unprecedented blow to Israel’s democracy.

This was the tenth consecutive weekend of demonstrations and, according to organizers and the Haaretz newspaper, the one with the highest number of participants in the country’s history.

It is estimated that up to 500,000 people took to the streets on Saturday to protest in various cities across the country, mainly in Tel Aviv.

The judicial reform was partially approved in the first phase by the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) in late February, and the government plans to go ahead with the votes this week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued that the changes would prevent judicial courts from overreaching their power and restore balance between parliament and justice.

Some of the most controversial points propose giving the government decisive influence over the choice of judges, as well as preventing the country’s Supreme Court from reviewing laws passed by Parliament.

This measure is considered particularly controversial because of Israel’s political system, which does not have a formal constitution and uses basic laws to define the role of institutions and branches.

The Knesset already has the power to change basic laws as easily as it passes new draft common laws. However, if the reform is approved, this would happen without any possibility of judicial review of Justice.

An estimated 200,000 people protested in Tel Aviv and another 300,000 in other Israeli cities against judicial reform.

An estimated 200,000 people protested in Tel Aviv and another 300,000 in other Israeli cities against judicial reform.

Photo: Getty Images / BBC News Brazil

“The government could pass and shield any judicial review legislation just by classifying it as basic law,” Gila Stopler, director of the Israel Faculty of Law and Business and an expert in Constitutional Law, told BBC News Brazil.

She and other analysts believe that this would make the judiciary a political body and could lead to an authoritarian government without democratic guarantees.

“Approval of the changes would mean the end of Israel’s democracy. And the reason for that is because a democracy depends on the separation of powers, the rule of law and respect for human rights to exist,” she said.

To take effect, each of the laws proposed in the package must pass three votes. But the mere possibility of the changes taking place has already caused great divisions in Israeli society.

Even part of the reservists – who are the backbone of the Israeli army – have threatened to refuse to serve the country, as a form of protest.

Last Monday, in an unprecedented move, dozens of reservist pilots from an elite squadron of the country’s Air Force said they would not show up for training. Later, they ended up relenting.

On Thursday, protesters blocked avenues in an attempt to prevent Netanyahu from traveling to Italy – he was eventually able to board.

The prime minister’s government has so far been steadfast in its defense of reform, saying the protests have been fueled by the opposition.

Judicial reform is one of the main bets of the Netanyahu government, in a coalition with ultra-Orthodox and far-right parties that took power in December.

This text was originally published at https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/articles/cd1ydl58zj8o

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