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Israel: Netanyahu hits out at protests, as mall chain threatens closure

Israeli government summons attorney-general to discuss measures against protests, ahead of parliamentary reading on judicial reforms
Anti-government protesters raise flags and light a fire on Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on 5 July 2023 (AFP)
Anti-government protesters raise flags and light a fire on Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on 5 July 2023 (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hit out at protests against his government's planned judicial overhaul, summoning the attorney-general to a cabinet meeting to discuss police counter-measures. 

Israelis have launched mass protests since January over the reforms, which they say would weaken the judiciary and turn the Supreme Court into a pseudo-political body that would bend laws in favour of the government.

On Monday, Netanyahu's far-right coalition government will bring forward a parliamentary reading of the bill that would limit "reasonableness" as a standard of judicial review.

Opponents have said the move could lead to abuses of power.

In televised remarks on Sunday, the prime minister said that, while it was "unthinkable" to suppress the right to protest, such freedoms should not lead to "violations of the law that harm the basic rights of millions of citizens and are taking place on an almost daily basis".

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He cited the example of disruptions at Ben Gurion Airport, road closures and the heckling of lawmakers. 

BIG Shopping Centers, a major shopping centre chain, said it would shut down all 24 of its branches on Tuesday if the "reasonableness" bill passed the first reading. 

It described the move as a "serious step on the way to clearly illegal governmental corruption, and another step on the way to dictatorship".

"Such legislation would be a fatal blow to Israel's business and economic certainty and would directly and immediately endanger our existence as a leading company in Israel," it said in an open letter.

Far-right national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir said he would boycott the mall chain unless it withdraws what he described as political "bullying".

Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara will be called upon "to give an accounting" during the cabinet session on Sunday, Netanyahu said.

Last week, Tel Aviv's outgoing police commander, Ami Eshed, said he had faced political intervention from members of the cabinet, who he said wanted excessive force to be used against demonstrators.

The judicial reforms were paused in March amid deepening splits in Israeli society between government supporters and opposition campaigners.

Last week, Netanyahu dropped a key part of the overhaul, announcing his government would no longer seek to grant Israel's parliament the authority to overturn Supreme Court rulings.

The proposal to give the government more power over judicial appointments would also be revised, the premier added.

Opponents to the overhaul include army reservists, pilots, intelligence officers, and tech employees who feared the revamp would harm the economy and scare investment away from Israel.

The government has attempted to find a middle ground in negotiations with the opposition since March but has so far failed to produce a result.

Members of the government have threatened to resign and jeopardise the coalition if the policy is scrapped. 

Netanyahu is facing trial on corruption charges, which would see him removed from office if found guilty. He denies all wrongdoing. 

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