Thousands of Israelis blocked traffic and snarled movement at the country’s main international airport on Monday, the latest mass demonstration over Benjamin Netanyahu’s contentious planned judicial overhaul that has divided the nation.
The Netanyahu government’s push to pass several overlapping reforms to the country’s judiciary have plunged Israel into an unprecedented crisis and divided an already highly polarized country.
Protesters waving Israel’s blue-and-white national flag and blowing horns blocked the main thoroughfare outside Ben Gurion Airport’s main terminal and demonstrated inside the arrivals hall. Police said officers arrested at least four people for public disturbance.
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Netanyahu and his ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox political allies are pressing ahead with plans to pass several contentious changes to Israel’s judicial system after attempts to reach a compromise with opposition lawmakers disintegrated. The planned overhaul has drawn rebuke from the Biden administration and consternation from American Jews.
Netanyahu ally Simcha Rotman, who chairs parliament’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and has spearheaded the overhaul, said Monday that he would bring a bill to strip the Supreme Court of its authority to strike down government decisions it deems “unreasonable” this week.
That “reasonability standard” was used by the Supreme Court earlier this year to upend the appointment of a Netanyahu ally as interior minister because of a conviction for bribery when he served in the role in the 1990s and a 2021 plea deal for tax evasion.
Critics say removing that standard would allow the government to pass arbitrary decisions and grant it too much power.
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Last week, over 100 Israeli air force reservists signed a letter saying they would refuse to show up for duty if the government moves forward with the plan.
Netanyahu and his allies came to power after November’s election, Israel’s fifth in under four years, all of which were largely referendums on the longtime leader’s fitness to serve while on trial for corruption.
Netanyahu, whose corruption trial has dragged on for nearly three years, and his allies in his nationalist religious government say the overhaul is needed to rein in an overly interventionist judiciary and restore power to elected officials.
Critics say the plan would upend Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and push the country toward dictatorship.