Tens of thousands protest against PM Netanyahu's new far-right coalition and its plans to clip powers of Supreme Court that critics say will undermine democracy.

People stand next to a bonfire on a road during a protest against Israeli far-right coalition in Tel Aviv on February 25, 2023.
People stand next to a bonfire on a road during a protest against Israeli far-right coalition in Tel Aviv on February 25, 2023. (Reuters)

Flag-waving Israelis have gathered in a massive protest for the eighth straight week to press their opposition to government legal reforms critics see as a threat to democracy.

Israeli media reported on Saturday the crowds were again in the tens of thousands, after lawmakers this week took a step towards approving the reforms which are a cornerstone of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's latest administration, which took office in December.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, made coalition deals to form the most far-right government in the history of Israel.

Critics, including Supreme Court president Esther Hayut, have condemned the reforms as an assault on the independence of the judiciary.

Some Netanyahu detractors have also tied the proposals to his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies those charges and any link between the reforms and his own court case.

"We are very afraid we will become a fascist country. We are fighting for our country, for democracy, for equal rights for everyone," one protester in Tel Aviv, Ronit Peled, a 68-year-old retiree, told the AFP news agency.

"Democracy! Democracy!" others shouted, vowing not to give up.

UN seeks pause in legislation

Netanyahu has presented the judicial reforms as key to restoring balance between the branches of government, arguing judges currently have too much power over elected officials.

The legislation would give more weight to the government in the committee that selects judges, and deny the Supreme Court the right to strike down any amendments to so-called Basic Laws, Israel's quasi-constitution.

Another element of the reforms would give the 120-member parliament the power to overrule Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of 61 votes.

Analysts say such a derogation clause could allow lawmakers to uphold any annulment of the corruption charges Netanyahu is being tried on, should parliament vote to absolve him and the Supreme Court then rule against it.

On Tuesday, United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk urged Israel to pause the legislation, saying the proposed changes "would drastically undermine the ability of the judiciary to vindicate individual rights and to uphold the rule of law".

Source: AFP