After the partial approval of the norm that limits the power of judges, there were new marches in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The crisis in Israel escalated on Tuesday with calls for protests and strikes, following a parliamentary vote on a controversial judicial reform that divides the nation and drew criticism from allies abroad.
The Israeli Parliament approved a key clause of the reform promoted by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, which has already provoked judicial appeals and clashes in the streets.
The vote centered on the so-called “reasonableness” clause, which will limit judges’ ability to overrule government decisions they deem “unreasonable.”
Critics fear the reform will undermine democracy by removing checks and balances on the executive.
A crowd blocks a highway in Tel Aviv on Monday night. Photo: REUTERS
As Netanyahu’s allies celebrated their victory and vowed to follow through with more changes, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with opposition leaders saying they would challenge the new law in the Supreme Court.
In a televised speech, Netanyahu on Monday defended the approval of that clause as “a necessary democratic step.”
As part of the protest movement, which has been going on for several months, the doctors’ union called for a strike on Tuesday in the public service, except for emergencies.
“The outstretched hand for dialogue was left hanging in the air,” Israel Medical Association president Zion Hagay said in a statement announcing the strike.
The head of the Histadrut union, Arnon Bar David, threatened “a general strike if necessary” against the reforms.
The Israel Bar Association was one of numerous groups that petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the new legislation.
Protests against judicial reform have been in Israel for months. Photo: REUTERS
“A black day for Israeli democracy”, read on Tuesday the front pages of three of the country’s main newspapers, which were printed in that color as a message of rejection of the law.
Protesters remained in the streets until late at night after the vote in the Knesset (parliament).
Student Josh Hakim said he was “very saddened by what is happening to the country.” “Look at what is happening in the streets, everyone is very angry,” he told AFP near the Parliament in Jerusalem.
Clashes and arrests
Some 58 people were detained in the demonstrations, according to the police, several of them in Tel Aviv, the focus of one of the largest protest movements in the country’s history.
The officers used water cannon to disperse the protesters on one of Tel Aviv’s main roads, where the crowd was waving Israeli flags.
Netanyahu failed to appease opponents with his speech on Monday, in which he said he wanted to negotiate with the opposition on the reform bill and “start a dialogue.”
Police tried to break up the Monday night march in Tel Aviv. Photo: AFP
The embattled prime minister, who was on the ballot, showed signs of fatigue in the chamber, just one day after surgery that fitted him with a pacemaker.
On Monday, the opposition left the chamber to boycott the vote on the clause, which was approved with 64 votes in a 120-seat chamber.
“There is no prime minister in Israel. Netanyahu has become a puppet of messianic extremists,” opposition chief Yair Lapid said, referring to the prime minister’s far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies.
Opponents accuse Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, of wanting to use this reform to quash possible trials against him, which he denies.
Political instability set off alarm bells among Israel’s allies.
The United States called the vote “unfortunate” and the German government said it was following with “great concern” the tensions rocking Israeli society.
The protests have drawn support from all political and social strata, from both the left and the right, secular and religious groups, peace activists and military reservists, as well as blue-collar and tech workers crucial to the country’s economy.