A mile-long column of anti-government protesters marched into Jerusalem on Saturday evening, turning the main road into the city into a sea of ​​blue-and-white Israeli flags, to protest the far-right government’s plan to curtail judicial power.

In temperatures sometimes nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, hundreds of the demonstrators marched starting Tuesday night from Tel Aviv, a coastal city about 40 miles away, and camped for four nights along the route. Many more joined them in the days that followed, and by Saturday the number of protesters swelled to at least 20,000, despite the scorching heat.

When the march reached the outskirts of Jerusalem on Saturday, the marchers marched 10 abreast, forcing cars into a single lane of traffic. The column stretched for at least two miles and included people in motorized wheelchairs and at least one person on crutches.

“Have you ever seen anything like this?” said Ilana Holzman, 65, a protester from Tel Aviv who joined the march for its final leg on Saturday.

“I think this is the only place to be right now,” Ms. Holzman said. “Not at the beach and not in the air conditioner. Here you see the people of Israel at their best. It is terribly hot, but they walk on.”

The unusual spectacle reflected the intensity of emotion running through Israeli society this weekend, as the ruling coalition prepares to pass a law in the coming days that would limit the ways in which the Supreme Court can overturn government decisions.

Protesters camped overnight on Friday near the Israeli village of Moshav Shoresh.Credit…Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The country’s largest trade union, the Histadrut, announced Saturday night that it was holding an emergency meeting in response to the government’s plan, amid speculation it may call a general strike.

A tent city has sprung up in a Jerusalem park below the Parliament building as some of the protesters who marched into the city settled in for what could be stormier days of protest ahead.

Hundreds of thousands of other protesters simultaneously held mass meetings in dozens of cities across the country for the 29th consecutive week. A group representing military reservists from all branches of the military announced that about 10,000 Israelis have said they will stop reporting for reserve duty if the law is passed, in addition to more than 1,000 members of the air force who have made similar threats in recent days.

And a group of former senior Israeli security leaders issued a joint letter calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay a vote on the law unless it is revised by agreement, citing the reservists’ protests and the resulting risks to Israel’s military capability.

Signing the letter were three former military leaders; five former heads of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service; three former directors of the Shin Bet, the internal security agency; and four former police commissioners.

Adding to the uncertainty on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu was taken to the hospital to have a pacemaker implanted during a procedure in which he would be placed under sedation, his office said.

Negotiations to reach an 11th-hour settlement on the court dispute are still underway, and could result in the plan being halted or delayed. But for now, lawmakers are expected to hold a binding vote on the law on Monday in Parliament, where the ruling coalition has a four-seat majority.

The law would prevent the court from overturning the national government using the legal standard of “reasonableness,” a concept judges have previously used to block ministerial appointments and challenge planning decisions, among other government initiatives.

The government and its supporters say the new legislation will improve democracy by restoring the balance of power between elected lawmakers and unelected judges, and giving lawmakers greater freedom to implement the policies that the majority of voters chose at the ballot box.

“The proper balance between the authorities has been disturbed over the past decades,” Mr Netanyahu said in a speech on Thursday. “This balance must be restored so that the democratic choice of the people can find expression in the government that was chosen by the people.”

Mr. Netanyahu in Jerusalem this month.Credit…Pool photo by Gil Cohen-Magen

The court could still use other legal standards to oppose government decisions.

But large parts of the country, including the marchers on Saturday, say the legislation undermines democracy because it will remove a key check on government overreach. They say this may allow the government – the most ultra-nationalist and ultra-conservative in Israeli history – to build a much less pluralistic society.

“We are marching because the government, to make a long story short, is trying to turn us into a dictatorship,” Navot Silberstein, 31, said shortly after reaching the top of the steep hills west of Jerusalem on Friday evening.

“We will not live in a country where the government has too much power over us,” added Mr. Silberstein, his shirt drenched in sweat after walking for hours in the sun.

This disagreement is part of a much broader and long-term social dispute over the nature and future of Israeli society. The ruling coalition and its base generally have a more religious and conservative vision, and see the court as an obstacle to that goal. The opposition tends to have a more secular and diverse vision, and to consider the court a standard-bearer for its cause.

Some protesters fear that the legislation will make it easier for the government to impose ultra-Orthodox Jewish practice on public life, for example forcing shops to close on the Sabbath or enforcing gender segregation in public spaces. Others fear the law would make it easier for government leaders to get away with corruption, or for Mr. Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for bribery and fraud, to escape punishment, a claim he strongly denies.

“The fear is that our country will not look like it does today,” Ms. Holzman said of the judicial review plan.

Similar mass protests in March prompted the government to suspend, at least for now, other planned judicial changes. One of the interrupted plans would have allowed parliament to overturn the court’s decisions; another would have given the government more sway over who comes to be a Supreme Court justice.

By Saturday, the number of protesters marching against Jerusalem had grown to at least 20,000.Credit…Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters

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