Israel judicial reform: Water cannon used outside parliament ahead of key vote
Police have utilized water cannon and arrested protesters outside Israel’s parliament ahead of a key vote on reforms which have caused an uproar.
The vote brings to a head months time of turmoil with some of the biggest demonstrations in Israel’s history.
About 150 major firms, including banks, are striking on Monday in protest.
The reforms aim to curb the powers of the courts, which the government says have grown too wide. Opponents say the reforms imperil Israel as a democracy.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said the country was “in a state of national emergency” and beseeched political leaders to reach a compromise.
On Monday morning protesters blocking a boulevard outside the Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem were sprayed with water cannon and pulled off the road by police amid a cacophony of noise from drums, whistles, and air horns.
One protester was hurt, local media say, and six were arrested, police said. Other protesters surrounded a police van shouting “shame” at officers.
A demonstrator lying in the street told the BBC he was defying “dictatorship”, adding that his grandfather had been a wartime codebreaker against the Nazis at the UK’s famous Bletchley Park.
Asked how long he would stay put he said: “We will never surrender”.
The protesters – tens of thousands of whom marched some 45 miles (70km) from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at the end of last week – are trying to thwart the passage into law of the first bill of a package of reforms. Voting on the measure is underway.
The so-called “reasonableness” bill would remove the power of the Supreme Court to overturn government decisions that it deems to have gone too far.
The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said he would be in parliament for the vote after he underwent unscheduled surgery on Saturday to be fitted with a pacemaker. He was discharged from the hospital on Monday morning.
The controversial reforms have polarised Israel, triggering one of the most serious domestic crises in the country’s history.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets weekly since the start of the year in protest at what they say is an attack on democracy. The government says the reforms serve to strengthen democracy, arguing the Supreme Court has accrued too much power over politics in recent decades.
Deepening the crisis, thousands of reservists, including pilots in the air force crucial to Israel’s offensive and defensive capabilities, have vowed not to volunteer for service. Such unprecedented dissent has caused alarm over the potential impact on Israel’s military readiness.
Former heads of Israel’s security services, chief justices, and prominent legal and business figures have also been vocal against the government’s reforms.
The measures have also been criticized by US President Joe Biden, who in his most explicit comments yet called for the “divisive” bill to be postponed.