Hundreds of Israeli lawyers demonstrate against plans to transform the justice system

The chief justice of Israel’s Supreme Court condemned sweeping changes to the country’s judicial system planned by the new conservative government on Thursday, adding her voice to growing outcry against the planned overhaul.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government unveiled its plan last week, proposing changes that critics say would weaken the country’s judiciary and damage its democratic system of checks and balances.

Activists have said Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s move will weaken the Supreme Court, politicize the appointment of judges and limit the independence of government legal advisers.

They fear the changes in the law could help Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, evade conviction or even see his trial disappear altogether.

Since his indictment in 2019, Netanyahu has publicly railed against the justice system, calling it biased against him. He says the legal overhaul is being carried out responsibly.

“Israel will soon celebrate 75 years of independence as a Jewish and democratic state. This is an important milestone in the life of the state,” Esther Hayut, the president of Israel’s Supreme Court, said at a meeting of the Israeli Association of Public Law.

“Unfortunately, if the proposed plan for change is implemented, the 75th year will be remembered as the year in which Israel’s democratic identity suffered a fatal blow,” Hayut added.

Hayut said independence is the “soul of the courts” and without it the judges could not fulfill their role as public servants.

It aimed at a proposal that would allow Parliament to overrule Supreme Court decisions by a simple majority.

For decades, the judiciary in Israel has played a key role in upholding minority rights and overthrowing parliamentary majority rule.

“It’s about overriding the human rights of everyone in Israeli society,” local media quoted Hayut as saying.

The announced legislative changes have triggered a wave of resistance. Seven former attorneys general who have served over the past five decades also opposed the overhaul on Thursday, signing a letter of protest along with four senior justice officials.

The plan has sparked an uproar over what critics say is a major threat to Israel’s democratic foundations.

The country’s current Attorney General, Gali Baharav-Miara, has already heavily criticized the proposed changes, and a protest against them last week drew thousands of people.

However, the government said the overhaul is a necessary step to streamline governance and correct an imbalance that has given the legal system too much leverage.