Israeli PM Netanyahu polls lower after judicial reform

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken a hit in the polls over a judicial law his hard-right coalition has championed, deepening a crisis that has shaken Israelis, seeped into the military, bruised the economy and dismayed Washington.

Surveys published late on Tuesday by two main Israeli news broadcasters showed that if an election was held now, the number of seats held by Netanyahu’s governing coalition in the 120-seat Knesset would fall from 64 to 52 or 53.

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Seats held by Netanyahu’s Likud party would fall from 32 to 28, according to N12 News, and to as low as 25 seats in a survey by broadcaster Reshet 13.

On Monday, Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition, formed after an election on November 1 last year, gave parliamentary approval to legislation that will limit some of the Supreme Court’s powers, despite mass street protests and fierce objections from the opposition.

It was the first ratification of a bill that is part of a government bid to overhaul the judiciary. Announced in January, the plan has sparked unprecedented street protests and stirred international concern for the state of Israel’s democracy.

Netanyahu won approval rating of 38 percent of respondents in N12’s poll, with a majority of Israelis wanting his judicial plan either scrapped entirely or negotiated with the opposition. Less than a quarter of respondents showed support for the legislation package.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption that he denies, has said he wants to pursue consensus on any further legislation by November.

The United States has urged him to reach broad agreements on judicial reforms and called Monday’s legislation “unfortunate.”

But Netanyahu’s coalition has been determined to push back against what it describes as overreach by a Supreme Court that it says has become too politically interventionist.

The new law says the Supreme Court cannot void government and ministerial decisions by deeming them unreasonable.

Critics say the amendment was rushed through parliament and will open the door to abuses of power by removing one of the few effective checks on the executive’s authority in a country without a formal written constitution.

The divide has even spread to the military, with volunteer reservists saying they will not report for duty and former top brass warning that Israel’s war-readiness could be at risk.

On Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service said the government’s judicial drive and the upheaval it has been causing will likely have negative consequences for Israel’s economy and security.

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