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'Day of paralysis' in Israel, as Knesset adopts anti-impeachment law

Organizers of the anti-judicial overhaul plan are expecting half a million demonstrators today across Israel, rallying, blocking roads and marching through cities.
Israeli police confront protesters during ongoing demonstrations in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2023, against controversial legal reforms being touted by the country's hard-right government. - Israel's ruling coalition presented an amended version of a key element in its contentious judicial overhaul, in hopes of allaying concerns at home and abroad for Israeli democracy. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Protesters across Israel have been blocking roads and rallying outside homes of Cabinet ministers since early Thursday, in what organizers of the anti-judicial overhaul movement have declared “a day of paralysis.”

The demonstrations are taking place as the government accelerates the process  to adopt the controversial judicial overhaul package before the end of the current Knesset session on April 2. The bills would see Israel's court system undermined in favor of the political elite. 

On Wednesday night, the Knesset adopted at second and third readings the Incapacitation Law, which prevents Israel's attorney general from declaring an incumbent prime minister unfit to serve. The controversial bill is now adopted as law of the land in a narrow majority of 61 to 47 votes in the chamber.

Israel's attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara had ordered sitting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to deal directly with the details of the judicial overhaul because of his ongoing corruption trial that presents a conflict of interest. The new law paves the way for Netanyahu to get openly involved in the plan, as the prime minister could hence be impeached only for health reasons and with a special majority.

The coalition is planning to bring to vote on Monday the legislation modifying the composition of the committee that selects judges.

Several protests are taking place across the country. On Wednesday night protestors blocked the entrance to the helipad in Caesarea, in the vicinity of the private Netanyahu residence. 

The first to demonstrate Thursday morning were students and their parents, marching from schools to large gathering points. Marches in different cities were also organized by students from Jerusalem Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Weitzman Institute and Haifa Technology Institute. High-tech people are gathering at the Sharona Tel Aviv central neighborhood for a separate rally.

Demonstrators are planning to block Ben Gurion Airport, as Netanyahu is set to travel to London on Thursday night for an official visit. Many groups of Israel Defense Forces reservists are holding their own rallies, especially outside homes of senior Likud members who serve as senior officials in Israel’s security agencies. Highway junctions and main traffic routes across Israel have been blocked by demonstrators.

Another big rally is taking place in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, in the center of Israel. Protesters are blaming ultra-Orthodox politicians for pushing forward the judicial overhaul in order to secure more budgets for yeshiva students and their families, and to expand the number of ultra-Orthodox men avoiding military service. A torch march is planned to take place in Bnei Brak at night.

In parallel to the marches and rallies, protesters have set up stands across the country, where people are called to sign on to Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, which lists democracy and equality as founding values of the state. A giant Israeli flag alongside a giant copy of the Declaration of Independence were unfurled down the Old City walls in Jerusalem this morning.

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