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Israelis block roads as Netanyahu rejects judicial overhaul compromise

Rallies across Israel continue for the 10th week in a row against the government’s judicial overhaul plan, after the coalition rejected a compromise suggested by the president.
Demonstrators confront Israeli mounted policemen during a rally against the government's controversial judicial overhaul bill in Tel Aviv on March 16, 2023. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Protesters across Israel are demonstrating on Thursday morning against the government's judicial overhaul plan, in a third "day of disruption."

Demonstrations are taking place only hours after President Isaac Herzog unveiled his compromise outline for the judicial reform, compiled after long weeks of consultations in an attempt to resolve the crisis. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior coalition partners rejected Herzog’s framework quickly, claiming it was designed to appeal to the center-left camp.

“Unfortunately, the things the president proposes were not agreed on by the coalition, and central elements of the proposal he made just perpetuate the existing situation, and don’t bring the necessary balance between the branches of government. This is the unfortunate truth,” Netanyahu said, as he left for a trip to Berlin.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in recent month to protest Netanyahu’s government plan. The proposed judicial overhaul would directly undercut the power of Israel’s High Court in favor of politicians. 

On Thursday, several junctions on the coastal highway have been blocked since morning, as are main traffic axis in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities, where parents and their children are marching. Students have blocked the entrance to Tel Aviv University with barbed wires, in a bid to protect freedom of speech and expression. Demonstrating artists have painted a red line along the road leading to the Jerusalem Supreme Court. Five artists were arrested by police for vandalizing public property.

Rallies are taking place in front of European embassies and in front of the US Embassy. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reserve officers have set up a mock IDF recruitment office in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak. They are protesting against the intention of the government to relieve thousands of ultra-Orthodox youngsters of enlistment duty via new legislation. IDF naval reservists are blocking the Haifa port with small boats. A march with torches is set to take place Thursday evening in the center of Tel Aviv.

A large group of women dressed in red cloaks resembling the Handmaid's Tale TV show, marched in Tel Aviv, in rejection of the far-right government. 

Addressing Israelis on TV, Herzog presented Wednesday evening what he called the "people’s compromise." The president's plan protects the independence of the judiciary, though strikes the authority of the Supreme Court to cancel Israel’s semi-constitutional basic laws. It also strikes the authority of the court to cancel appointments of ministers estimated to be illegal or extremely unreasonable. The adopting of any new basic laws would require an extraordinary Knesset procedure of four readings and a special majority. For the committee charged with selecting judges, the president offers the government six seats out of 11, with seven votes necessary for the selection of a judge.

Leaders of the coalition, including Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid and Blue and White party head Benny Gantz, accepted the framework of the president. Lapid warned that Israel was being “torn to pieces” by the government’s judicial overhaul. The rejection by the coalition of Herzog’s compromise framework “disgraces the office of the president, makes a mockery of the seriousness of the current situation and undermines the idea that we are one people,” Lapid said.

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