Despite the recent surge in violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul the judiciary. The proposed changes, which were paused last month following a wave of strikes and mass demonstrations, would give the government effective control over the appointment of Supreme Court judges and permit parliament to overrule many decisions of the court. Critics argue that this would remove some of the vital checks and balances underpinning a democratic state and hand unchecked power to the government.
The latest protest came amid concerns about a possible repeat of nighttime Israeli police raids around Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which were followed by rocket barrages into Israel and Israeli air attacks on Gaza and southern Lebanon. Tens of thousands of worshippers were expected for evening prayers at the mosque. Israelis were also on edge following a car-ramming in Tel Aviv on Friday that killed an Italian man and wounded five other tourists, and a shooting attack that killed two Israeli sisters and wounded their mother near an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Despite warnings from the government not to attend the protest due to security concerns, some 145,000 people were expected to attend, according to Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar, who was reporting from Tel Aviv. Protesters said that the government was using security as an excuse and that it would not stop them from taking to the streets. They argued that it was a historic moment for the country and that they were there to save democracy in Israel.
The judicial proposals have caused one of the biggest domestic crises in Israel’s recent history, with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including army reservists, business leaders, members of Israel’s tech industry and leading academics taking part. They have faced off against supporters of Netanyahu’s far-right religious-nationalist coalition. Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said that the growing crisis was further isolating Netanyahu, who was losing control of his government and being subjected to “blackmail” by his coalition partners. Bishara added that Netanyahu was losing big time in the polls in Israel and was also losing the security situation as well as so-called stability and prosperity in the country.
The United Nations, the European Union and the United States have all called for calm in Israel. Before the protests, police had urged people to leave roads clear to allow emergency services to move freely following Friday’s car-ramming on a popular shoreline promenade in Tel Aviv.