Sunday, June 23, 2024

Israelis rally against PM’s ‘overhaul plan’, Palestinian crime deaths

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have rallied across Israel for the 23rd week, protesting controversial plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judiciary as well as deadly violence hitting Palestinian communities.

The mass demonstrations, which drew some 100,000 people on Saturday, began in January shortly after Netanyahu’s far-right government was sworn in.

Gaining momentum and seeing large turnouts of more than 200,000 demonstrators at times, protest organisers have said they will not give up until the government cancels the proposed legal changes rather than delaying them.

In central Tel Aviv, protester Michal Gat said: “Our country is being captured by extreme people… we’re being held hostage”.

“It’s super important for the Israeli people to keep Israel a democracy,” the 47-year-old tech worker told the AFP news agency.

Some people at the protest also held signs criticising government inaction over a soaring crime wave that has affected Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Since the start of the year, some 102 Palestinian-Israelis have been killed in crime-related violence, according to Israeli media.

On Thursday, five Palestinian-Israelis were shot dead at a car wash in Yafia, a town near the city of Nazareth, police confirmed.

Palestinian citizens of Israel have long complained of discrimination and police inaction against violence and crime that disproportionately affects their communities.

“We will not let [Itamar] Ben-Gvir get away with murders in the Arab society,” read one protest sign, referring to Israel’s far-right security minister.

Another sign read “dead-class citizen”, a play on the phrase second-class citizen.

Organisers stated that demonstrations were also held in the cities of Haifa and Rehovot.

In Haifa, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak called for a non-violent civil uprising against Netanyahu’s government, saying “this is not the time for a time-out”.

“We must not fall into illusions… The protest must intensify and move into a civil uprising. Non-violent civil disobedience,” he added.

Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, had announced a “pause” on the judicial overhaul plans in March to allow for talks on the divisive changes.

But months of talks have not produced a breakthrough.

And the judicial overhaul bill – which would weaken the courts and limit oversight on laws and government decisions – could be brought back for a final vote in the parliament at a moment’s notice, according to Israeli media.

Netanyahu’s government, a coalition between his Likud party and extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies, argues the changes are needed to rebalance powers between legislators and the judiciary.

Last month, when the parliament approved Israel’s state budget, Netanyahu pledged to “continue our efforts to reach understandings as broad as possible on the legal reform”.

Critics say the bill poses a direct threat to civil rights and warn it will grant the government unrestrained power as well as upend the country’s system of checks and balances.

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