Israeli protesters block highway as government presses on with judicial overhaul

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Israeli protesters blocked the main highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Wednesday, as lawmakers were set to plough ahead with a contentious judicial overhaul that opponents see as a threat to democracy.

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“Israel is not a dictatorship, Israel is not Hungary,” the protesters called, waving blue and white Israeli flags.

Demonstrations were expected to intensify nationwide in what protest organizers have dubbed a “day of disruption.” Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said he would not allow a “mutiny”, or “anarchists” to block roads.

The reform was proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition government in January. It includes giving the government decisive sway in picking judges and limits the scope of the Supreme Court to strike down legislation or rule against the executive.

Critics say that this would greatly weaken judicial independence, given Israel has no constitution and only one house of parliament that is controlled by the coalition.

In parliament on Wednesday, the Knesset’s Constitution, Justice and Law Committee was set to give initial approval to more proposals in the plan.

Warning the country was on the brink of “constitutional and social collapse,” President Isaac Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, is trying to formulate a compromise on the changes.

The plan has yet to be written into law, but it has already affected the Israeli shekel and drawn concern from some Western allies who have signaled concern about the democratic health of the country if the government goes through with the overhaul.

“Slow down a little a bit, maybe bring people together, try and build some consensus,” US Ambassador Tom Nides said at Tel Aviv University’s conference of the Institute for National Security Studies late on Tuesday.

Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges that he denies, says the changes will restore balance between the branches of government and boost business. Economists and legal experts have said it will isolate Israel and wreak havoc on its economy.

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