Tens of thousands rally against judicial overhaul in Israel

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Tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated across the country Saturday in the 10th consecutive week of protests against government judicial reform plans that critics view as a threat to democracy.

The demonstrations come as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government prepares to press on with its legislative agenda next week, shunning calls for a pause to allow for negotiations on the divisive plan.

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The biggest demonstration, in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, drew some 100,000 protesters, according to estimates given by Israeli media.

Many of them were waving blue and white Israeli flags.

“I’m demonstrating because the measures that the new government wants to take represent a real and immediate threat to Israeli democracy,” one protester, tech entrepreneur Ran Shahor, told AFP.

Demonstrations were held in other cities and towns in the country of more than nine million.

Some 50,000 Israelis protested in the northern city of Haifa and 10,000 in Beersheba -- the biggest yet in both -- according to Israeli media.

The rallies broke up without major incident, although police arrested three protesters who were blocking traffic on Tel Aviv’s ring road.

The chair of parliament’s law committee, Simcha Rotman, has scheduled daily hearings on parts of the government’s reforms from Sunday through Wednesday ahead of votes.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin has said the coalition plans to pass key elements of the reforms before parliament goes into recess on April 2.

The judicial overhaul is a cornerstone of Netanyahu’s administration, an alliance with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right parties which took office in late December.

The legislation would give more weight to the government in the committee that selects judges and would deny the Supreme Court the right to strike down any amendments to so-called Basic Laws, Israel’s quasi-constitution.

These provisions have already been endorsed by lawmakers at first reading.

Israeli President Issac Herzog -- who, in his largely ceremonial role, has tried to broker dialogue -- on Thursday called on the coalition the halt the legislation, dubbing it “a threat to the foundations of democracy”.

Another element of the reforms would give the 120-member parliament power to overrule Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of 61 votes.

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