Thousands of Israelis blocked major highways and held dozens of rallies across central Israel on Tuesday to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to finalize a law next week that will limit the power of the Supreme Court.
Despite temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit in some places, protesters marched through several cities in a renewed effort to stop the government from proceeding with a binding vote on the law in Parliament, which is likely to take place on Monday.
Some held huge roadside signs that read “Netanyahu is dividing the nation,” while others displayed a giant picture of Theodor Herzl, a founding father of modern Zionism, inscribed with the slogan: “This is not what I meant.”
One group hung a giant version of the Israeli declaration of independence from a freeway flyover, and another blocked the doors to the Tel Aviv stock exchange. Women’s rights activists – dressed in purple dresses inspired by characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood’s novel about a patriarchal, totalitarian state that was made into a television series – rallied in Raanana, central Israel.
Earlier in the day, the police said they had arrested 17 protesters for violating public order.
Protesters fear the law would undermine democracy by reducing judicial oversight over the cabinet, allow greater government overreach and pave the way for a more conservative, religious and patriarchal society. Mr. Netanyahu’s government says the plan would improve democracy by making elected lawmakers less beholden to unelected judges.
The protests came just hours after President Biden invited Mr. Netanyahu to a meeting in the United States in the coming months, months after Mr. Biden said he would not meet the prime minister “in the near term.”
A date for the meeting was not set, and the offer stopped short of an invitation to the White House itself. But the news still came as a blow to the protesters, who had hoped Mr Biden would use his influence over Mr Netanyahu to persuade him to suspend the legislative process.
The US government is an important ally of Israel, providing it with nearly $4 billion in annual aid, as well as weapons and defense systems, and systematic diplomatic cover at the United Nations Security Council.
Mr Biden is set to welcome Israel’s figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, to the White House on Tuesday, in another sign of strong US-Israeli ties.
Without further intervention from the United States, the protest movement is trying to put domestic pressure on Mr. Netanyahu through the unions and military reservists. Thousands of members of the Israeli military reserve have threatened to withdraw from volunteer duty if the law goes ahead – a move that could affect the operational capacity of key military sectors, particularly the air force, which relies heavily on reserve pilots.
Israel’s main trade union, the Histadrut, says it may organize a general strike to protest the law, a move that helped lead to the suspension of an earlier legislative push in March.
But the union has yet to officially confirm its position. To pressure it to join their cause, some protesters rallied outside the Histadrut headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.