JERUSALEM (CNN): About 160,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv Saturday night against the Israeli government’s plans to weaken the country’s judicial system, crowd expert Ofer Grinboim Liron told CNN. That would make it one of the biggest single demonstrations yet against the legislation.
Grinboim Liron, the CEO of Crowd Solutions, which specializes in crowd dynamics at events and venues, based his estimate on drone photos at 8 p.m. local time (1 p.m. ET).
Organizers of the protests said an additional 130,000 people protested in other demonstrations across the country Saturday night. Numbers from organizers have been higher than estimates from independent experts such as Grinboim Liron.
Tel Aviv and other cities around Israel have been seeing regular Saturday night demonstrations against the judicial overhaul plans for eight weeks.
The package of legislation would give Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, the power to overrule Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority. It would also give the government the power to nominate judges, which currently rests with a committee composed of judges, legal experts and politicians. It would remove power and independence from government ministries’ legal advisers, and take away the power of the courts to invalidate “unreasonable” government appointments, as the High Court did in January, forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri.
Four legislative clauses that are part of the overhaul took steps forward this week. The bills allowing Knesset override of Supreme Court decisions and removing the court’s power to rule government appointments unreasonable both passed early stages of the process on Wednesday and now go to the committee stage. Two other clauses passed first readings on Monday and require two more readings to become law.
Critics accuse Netanyahu of pushing the legislation in order to get out of corruption trials he is currently facing. Netanyahu denies that, saying the trials are collapsing on their own, and that the changes are necessary after judicial overreach by unelected judges.
About two out of three (66%) Israelis believe the Supreme Court should have the power to strike down laws incompatible with Israel’s Basic Laws, and about the same proportion (63%) say they support the current system of nominating judges, a poll for the Israel Democracy Institute found last week.
People who say they voted for opposition parties were far more likely than voters for the parties in the coalition to oppose the changes. Nearly nine out of 10 (87%) people who voted for the opposition said the Supreme Court should have the power to strike down laws incompatible with Basic Laws, while only 44% of coalition voters said it should. The percentage was slightly higher among people who voted for Netanyahu’s Likud party, with nearly half (47%) saying the Supreme Court should have that power.
Israel does not have a written constitution, but a set of what are called Basic Laws.
The survey, which was released February 21, found that about half (53%) of Israelis believed that removing the political independence of the judiciary would harm Israel’s economy – as Israeli economists and businesspeople have been warning. About a third (35%) do not believe the changes would harm the economy.
The online and telephone survey of 756 adults in Israel was carried out between February 9 to 13, 2023, and has a margin of error of 3.56 points.