The Israeli opposition vowed to “fight for the soul of the nation” with fresh protests as parliament prepared to hold a first reading on Monday of judicial changes promoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist government.
Wielding 64 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, Netanyahu looked likely to win eventual ratification for the first two changes, one increasing the government’s sway in choosing judges and the other setting limits to the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down legislation.
By noon, thousands of citizens carrying Israeli flags and STOP signs streamed to parliament to protest the vote that was expected to be held later in the day.
Polls have found that most Israelis want the reforms slowed to allow for dialogue with critics – or shelved altogether.
The shekel was 0.6% weaker versus the dollar in midday trading. Seeing instability from the reform feud, many economists, and leaders from high-tech and banking have warned of investor and capital flight from Israel. But a key coalition figure brushed this off.
“There is no link between the justice system reforms and any blow to Israel’s economy,” said Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni and head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah judaism party. “Any attempt at linkage is politicised.”
Opposition lawmakers protested Gafni’s statement, calling the committee “a circus”.
Ahead of the afternoon reading, protesters posted online videos of themselves trying to prevent lawmakers from Netanyahu’s coalition leaving for the Knesset. Police said eight people were arrested for disorderly conduct and traffic rerouted after demonstrators blocked some roads.
“Demonstrators who talk about democracy are themselves bringing about the end of democracy when they deny elected delegates the fundamental right in a democracy – to vote,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
The government says the reforms are designed to end overreach into politics by an unrepresentative Supreme Court. Critics say Netanyahu – who is on trial on graft charges that he denies – seeks legal changes that will hurt Israel’s democratic checks and balances, foster corruption and bring diplomatic isolation.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted that demonstrations would mount “in the fight for the soul of the nation”.
Israel’s head of state, President Isaac Herzog, has repeatedly urged the government and opposition to hold compromise talks. But while both sides have voiced willingness, they disagree on terms.