Tens of thousands in Israel march against Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul

Israelis with flags or in red dresses and white caps protest outdoors
Protesters in Jerusalem on Monday march against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul Israel’s judicial system.
(Ohad Zwigenberg / Associated Press)

Tens of thousands of Israelis — hoisting flags, blowing on horns and chanting, “Democracy!” and “No to dictatorship!” — protested outside the parliament building Monday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government formally launched a contentious plan to overhaul the country’s legal system.

It was the largest protest outside the Knesset in years and reflected the deep divisions over the plan. The proposed changes have triggered weeks of mass demonstrations, drawn cries of protest from influential business leaders and former military men and prompted a statement of concern from President Biden.

Despite a plea from the nation’s figurehead president to put the legislation on hold, Netanyahu’s allies approved a series of judicial changes during a stormy committee meeting. The vote now sends the legislation to the full parliament for a series of votes — an opening salvo in a battle expected to last weeks.


“They hear our cry. They hear the strong voice of truth,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said from the stage outside parliament. “They hear it and they’re afraid.”

Netanyahu and his supporters say the proposed changes are needed to rein in a judiciary that wields too much power. But his critics say the judicial overhaul is tantamount to a coup and will destroy Israeli democracy. They also say that Netanyahu, who is on trial for a series of corruption charges, has a conflict of interest.

The protesters came from across the country. Organizers said that more than 100,000 people attended, with LGBTQ activists and leaders of the opposition parties addressing the crowd.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have poured into the streets each weekend to protest changes Netanyahu and his coalition are planning that opponents believe will curtail civil liberties.

Jan. 29, 2023

Trainloads of people arriving in Jerusalem streamed up escalators in the city’s main train station chanting, cheering and whistling, and waving the national flag. A few hundred others gathered in protest at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, before marching toward the Knesset.

In the Knesset, opposition lawmakers vociferously protested the proposed reform to judicial appointments ahead of the committee vote to send the bill to the full parliament. During an unruly session, members of the opposition stood on the conference table and shouted as a key Netanyahu ally tried to hold the vote. The motions passed in a 9-7 committee vote.

Monday’s protest march on the Knesset came a day after the country’s figurehead president urged Netanyahu’s government to delay its proposed changes to the judiciary — moves that critics say will weaken the country’s Supreme Court and erode democratic checks and balances.


Many protesters carried the blue-and-white Israeli flag and posters decrying what they saw as an attack on the country’s democratic institutions. “Shame! Shame!” they chanted.

Israel has sworn in its most religious and right-wing parliament after nearly four years of political deadlock and five elections.

Nov. 15, 2022

“The people won’t have it,” said demonstrator Boaz Zarki. “The separation of authority is critical to the existence of democracy, and we need to do everything in our power to prevent” the changes from passing.

Other large demonstrations were held in cities around the country.

At a joint news conference at the Knesset, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that opposition party leaders were united “against the targeted assassination of democracy.”

Netanyahu and his allies took office in December after Israel’s fifth election in less than four years. That election, like its predecessors, focused on Netanyahu’s fitness for office at a time when he is facing serious criminal charges.

Netanyahu has lashed out at the country’s police, prosecutors and judges, saying he is the victim of a deep-state conspiracy to oust him. His critics say that he is motivated by a personal grudge.

The legislation approved in committee Monday would give Netanyahu’s parliamentary majority the authority to appoint all of the country’s judges — a step that critics say could pave the way for his corruption trial to be dismissed. A second change would take away the Supreme Court’s authority to review the legality of major pieces of legislation, known as Basic Laws.

His coalition also plans on passing another law that would give parliament the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions it dislikes.

Critics say the changes would unleash a process of centralization of power similar to those in increasingly authoritarian countries like Poland and Hungary.

Israel’s designated prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a coalition deal with a hard-line pro-settler party.

Dec. 1, 2022

Eliad Shraga, chairman of the Movement for Quality Government, a civil society group that organized Monday’s demonstration, said the gathering was meant to send a message of support to the Supreme Court and a warning to the Knesset.

“We will fight to the end,” he told the Associated Press. “They want to change Israel from a liberal democracy to a dictatorship, a fascist dictatorship.”


Late Sunday, President Isaac Herzog appealed to Netanyahu to put the legislation on hold and open a dialogue with the opposition. Netanyahu has not responded to the appeal.