Israel dispatch: protesters mass outside Knesset as controversial ‘judicial reform’ legislation advances Dispatches
© Paz Burd
Israel dispatch: protesters mass outside Knesset as controversial ‘judicial reform’ legislation advances

Yael Iosilevich is a law student in the Buchmann Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University and JURIST’s Staff Correspondent in Israel.  

On Monday tens of thousands of Israeli citizens filled trains, buses and roads to the brim on their way to Jerusalem to take part in one of the biggest rallies the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has seen since announcing its radical judicial reform. I went with them.

While the estimated number of protesters in front of the Knesset at any one time was about 80,000, people continued to come and go during the day, which raised the total number of protesters to as high as 300,000. This number was especially significant as citizens were not only asked to find time to come to Jerusalem but specifically to take time in the middle of the busy workweek. This protest was also a workers’ strike: protesters took a “day off” of work, leaving offices empty and stores closed, to raise their voices in Israel’s capital city.

While walking through the crowd yesterday, I could see a unification of the usually polarized Israeli society. Members of the Ultra-Orthodox community, army veterans, high-tech industry workers, academics, and more were together. All were marching to say that their cause is not a matter of political partisanship but one of keeping Israel a functioning democracy.

The protest was explicitly scheduled for Monday in response to the beginning of the legislative process to implement the government’s reforms. Yesterday the Knesset’s constitution, law, and justice committee scheduled votes on two bills. One will change the committee’s structure for the appointment of Supreme Court justices, giving politicians control over the committee. The other will allow a single majority in the Knesset to override almost all Supreme Court rulings.

After the two bills are approved by the Knesset’s committee, they will move to the next step of the legislation process, continuing to a first reading in the plenum. If the bills get most of the Knesset’s approval in the first reading, they will need two more readings in the plenum to go through.

Amongst members of the public raising their voices against this legislation, President Herzog has suggested a compromise for the reforms in addition to a suggestion to delay the legislative steps to allow for dialogue, filling a duty to help stop a constitutional collapse. But Justice Minister Yariv Levin has said there will be no delay in the process, though he does not oppose dialogue.

It is important to stress that the protests are not against any change at all in the judicial system, it is only against the radical “reform” as suggested now. Many do agree that a difference in the checks and balances is needed, but all believe that the currently suggested one nullifies the judicial power in the three-branch system. Reform is required to strengthen the parliament, alongside proportionally and responsibly lowering the judiciary’s branches’ strength in a way that will keep the checks and balances right and steady. That being said, the politicians still need to come down from the tree they have climbed, maybe with the help of President Hertzog’s mediation. For now, citizens will not stop protesting.