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Israel’s Judicial Reform Bill has been approved in principle, despite uproar

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Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, ignored nationwide protests in support of a key piece of controversial judicial reform in its first reading on Tuesday.

Lawmakers voted 63-47 to give more weight to the government on the committee that selects judges and to deny courts the right to rule on legislation they deem inconsistent with the so-called Basic Laws, quasi-constitution of Israel.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of Jerusalem on Monday against the upcoming vote. Inside Parliament, opposition MPs disrupted the debate with cries of “Shame”, and were temporarily removed.

The bill will now return to the Law Committee for further discussion, before its second and third readings in the plenum before becoming law.

“From now on, the court will belong to everyone,” Justice Minister Yariv Levin said after the bill passed its first reading, calling on members of the opposition to “come and speak.”

“We can come to terms,” ​​Levine said.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid accused the coalition of pushing Israel toward civil war, saying, “If you care about Israel and its people,” then “stop legislating today.”

President Isaac Herzog attempted to bring the parties together for reform talks, without success.

Comprehensive judicial reform is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration, an alliance of ultra-Orthodox and far-right parties that took power in late December.

Another element would give parliament the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions by a simple majority of 61 votes in the 120-member parliament.

The prime minister presents sweeping reform as key to rebalancing the branches of government, arguing that judges currently hold too much power over elected officials.

Critics, who see reform as a threat to the country’s democracy, accuse the government of a power grab, and tens of thousands of people have joined weekly protests against the legislation since early January.

Last week, some 100,000 people demonstrated outside the Knesset as a committee gave preliminary approval to the plan. It was the largest protest in the city in years.

For the second week in a row, thousands of people poured into the city from across the country in a massive demonstration against the planned judicial changes. Many waved Israeli flags, blew trumpets and carried banners reading “Save democracy”.

“All the steps that will take place now in the Knesset will change us into a pure dictatorship,” said Eitan Gur Aryeh, a 74-year-old retiree. “All powers will be for the government, with the head of government we will all be without rights.”

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