Mass protest in Jerusalem as Knesset advances judicial reforms over widespread objections


(JTA) — An Israeli parliamentary committee voted to advance parts of the government’s proposed judicial reform on Monday, as tens of thousands of Israelis protested in Jerusalem and opposition lawmakers attempted to disrupt the vote.

But following an address on Sunday by Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, begging for negotiations over the reforms, the coalition said it would delay a milestone vote that would have advanced the legislation further. That vote won’t take place until later in the week or next week, Justice Minister Yariv Levin confirmed on Monday.

Herzog wants the coalition to compromise on its demands, which including giving the governing coalition veto power over the Supreme Court, as well as control over the appointment of judges. Criticism of the proposed legislation has come not just from the Israeli political opposition but from business leaders, legal scholars and even, over the weekend, U.S. President Joe Biden.

The crowds in Jerusalem, estimated at close to 100,000 people, snarled traffic and packed public transportation as people gathered in the capital to protest the vote. Others planned to participate in a general strike on Monday. The protests follow weekly Saturday night protests of the reforms, which have drawn hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets nationwide.

The heads of Hebrew University urged students and faculty members to participate in the protest, saying that “the Jewish-democratic state is in danger of a kind we have never experienced before.” Meanwhile, the minister of education said students and teachers in elementary and secondary schools who attended the protest would be penalized, with teachers losing out on salaries and students being marked absent.

The initial vote took place amid sharp tensions within the Knesset, where the chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, from the right-wing Religious Zionism party, praised Herzog’s call for compromise but said he would not delay action on the reforms. Yair Lapid, leader of the parliamentary opposition, warned that the reforms are “a tearing apart of the people of Israel.” Opposition lawmakers shouted and, in one case, jumped over a table during the committee proceedings. Several were ejected from the chambers.

Opposition Knesset members also sang “I Have No Other Country,” a traditional Israeli song of patriotism and protest that was also cited by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. 2021.