Thousands of Israelis demonstrated across the country on Tuesday, blocking dozens of major roads to protest a sudden vote in parliament that advanced efforts by the far-right coalition to limit judicial oversight of the government.
Ahead of larger rallies planned for the evening, protesters set up tents on a highway in central Israel, blocked thoroughfares in Tel Aviv and outside Jerusalem, and marched through the arrivals hall at the country’s main airport. Police officers fired water cannons at some protesters and arrested scores during attempts to disperse the demonstrations. Video showed officers shoving a news photographer, Rami Shlush, to the ground as he covered the events. A police spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The protests have yet to match the intensity of an uptick in unrest in March, when leading unions shut down large parts of the Israeli economy in protest against the government’s earlier efforts to curb judicial power.
But they reflected on how the debate on the judicial review is far from over: After a three-month break, in which the government and the opposition sought but failed to reach a compromise, the government is once again proceeding with parts of its plan, provoking a wide spread. anger
The dispute is part of a wider social divide between the government and its supporters, who want to create a more religious and nationalist state, and their opponents, who have a more secular and pluralistic vision. The split is also rooted in deep disagreement over the shape and future of Israeli democracy.
The government says the overhaul aims to improve the democratic system by giving elected lawmakers more power than unelected judges.
But critics fear it undermines democracy by eliminating judicial oversight, risking government overreach and potentially giving the current administration more leeway to end the prosecution of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Netanyahu is on trial for corruption, a charge he denies. He also rejected any suggestion that he hopes to use his office to disrupt the trial.
The protests on Tuesday were started by a surprise vote in which lawmakers – by a majority of 64 to 56 – gave temporary support to a bill that would reduce the ways in which the Supreme Court can overrule elected officials.
If the bill passes two more votes in the coming weeks, it will prevent the court from using the legal standard of “reasonableness” to contradict the government.
Reasonableness is a legal standard used by courts around the world, including in countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada. A decision is deemed unreasonable if a court rules that it was made without considering all relevant issues or without giving significant weight to each issue or that it applied too much weight to irrelevant factors.
Some Supreme Court judges angered the government this year by using the standard to prevent Aryeh Deri, a leading ultra-Orthodox politician, from becoming a cabinet minister. The judges said it was unreasonable to appoint Mr. Deri because he had recently been convicted of tax fraud.
Although there are other ways for the court to limit government decisions, opponents of the bill say that it would eliminate one of the main means by which judges can defend the country from corruption and autocracy.
A growing number of military reservists, who play important roles in the army and air force, have said they will refuse to volunteer for duty if the review goes ahead.
Larger protests were planned for Tuesday evening outside the presidency in Jerusalem and the branch of the US embassy in Tel Aviv.
While President Biden has criticized the review, Israeli opposition members say the US government should take an even stronger stance.
Mira Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem.