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Why Israel is Protesting Benjamin Netanyahu's Judicial Overhaul
Massive protests occurred over the weekend in Israel due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposed overhaul of the Israeli judiciary. Some individuals in the United States who have not been following international current events may be uncertain as to why these protests are transpiring. What it comes down to is that while some Israelis, particularly those in Netanyahu’s far-right government, believe that the Supreme Court holds excessive power, opponents of Netanyahu argue that he is attempting to safeguard himself in his ongoing corruption trial, which has lasted for several years.
Things really took a turn for the worse this past Thursday when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to back down on his controversial overhaul of Israel's judiciary. The move comes just hours after the government passed a law that limits the ways in which a sitting prime minister can be declared unfit for office. Opposition politicians have condemned the law, claiming it is designed to protect Netanyahu, who is currently facing a corruption trial.
Former Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the law a "disgraceful and corrupt personalized law" and accused Netanyahu of only looking out for himself. Despite opposition from international leaders and concerns from Israel's security and military establishment, Netanyahu has doubled down on his plans to weaken Israel's judiciary. The new law passed on Thursday stipulates that "the authority to declare the Prime Minister incapacitated will only belong to the government or the Knesset and will only occur due to physical or mental incapacity," according to a statement from the Knesset.
For months, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been protesting against far-reaching changes to Israel's legal system, which some believe threaten the country's democratic foundations. The tension escalated when Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over his opposition to the planned overhaul, sparking mass street protests and widespread strike action.
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The proposed changes would give the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and the parties in power more control over Israel's judiciary, including the selection of judges, the laws that the Supreme Court can rule on, and even the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions. If implemented, these changes would be the most significant shakeups to Israel's judiciary since its founding in 1948.
While some political figures have previously called for changes to Israel's judiciary, the proposed reforms have sparked widespread opposition. Israel has no written constitution, only a set of quasi-constitutional basic laws, which makes the Supreme Court particularly powerful. However, Israel also has no check on the power of the Knesset other than the Supreme Court.