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Israel judicial crisis: Huge Jerusalem protest urges Netanyahu to continue reforms

Tens of thousands of right-wing Israelis gather in support of government's highly controversial overhaul of the judiciary
Right-wing Israelis wave the national flag during a rally in support of plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, 27 April 2023 (AP)

Tens of thousands of Israeli pro-government protesters gathered on Thursday to call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition not to compromise over a planned judicial overhaul.

Thousands of right-wing protesters held a rally in Jerusalem, shouting "we don't want compromise" while senior coalition figures gave speeches.

They waved Israeli flags and gathered in front of parliament in Kaplan Street, chanting "the people demand judicial reform" and "fire Miara".

Gali Baharav Miara is Israel's attorney general and has been critical of Netanyahu's highly controversial judicial plans. 

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Bills introduced to parliament - but currently paused after stinging domestic and international backlash - would give Netanyhau's government the power to appoint judges and allow a simple parliamentary majority to cancel judgements by the Supreme Court.

Critics say the bills will undermine Israel's democratic safeguards and are turning the country into an autocracy. Netanyhau's camp says the reforms are needed to balance the powers inside the state.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, one of the judicial overhaul's architects, told the crowd in Jerusalem that the opposition has been rejecting every offer the government is proposing to reach a deal.

'The people demand legal reform and they will get legal reform'

- Bezalel Smotrich speaking at rally

"Consensus means substantive negotiation," Haaretz reported him saying. "We are told that if the reform passes, there will be a dictatorship here. Show me one democracy where legal advisors make decisions instead of the government."

Bezalel Smotrich, the far-right finance minister, told protestors: "We will not give up on a Jewish state. We will not give up on Israeli democracy and no one will steal the term from us. The people demand legal reform and they will get legal reform.

"They have the media, the tycoons who fund demonstrations. We have the people, who demand that we fix what needs to be fixed," Smotrich added.

Netanyahu thanked the crowd for attending the rally, tweeting: "I thank the hundreds of thousands of Israeli who came to Jerusalem tonight to support our government. Your passion and patriotism moves me deeply."

'Deep shame'

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said he felt "deep shame and deep sadness" when he saw the pro-overhaul protest.

"This is what every Israeli who is part of the sane majority felt when he saw the protesters stepping on pictures of Supreme Court judges," he said on Twitter.

"The inflammatory speeches of the ministers and MPs only continue to tear the people apart and dismantle Israeli society. Where does this government want to lead us? What else will they do to the State of Israel and the people of Israel before they stop?"

Tens of thousands of Israelis have been rallying weekly for the past 16 weeks against the judicial reforms, previously shutting down important sectors of the country through strikes and hampering the military's capabilities.

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