Protests across Israel as Netanyahu’s government introduces bill to weaken courts

Jerusalem (CNN) A controversial bill that weakens freedom of Israel The judicial body passed its first reading in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, early Tuesday morning local time.

Both bills passed 63 to 47. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government has 64 seats in the 120-member chamber.

A bill must pass three readings in the Knesset to become law.

Netanyahu’s allies pressed ahead with the law despite tens of thousands of Israelis protesting against the changes over the past seven weeks.

On Monday, protesters blocked roads in cities across Israel During the demonstrations Against Netanyahu’s planned judicial reforms.

Demonstrators in Jerusalem turned the streets around the Supreme Court and Knesset into a sea of ​​Israeli flags, which organizers handed out before the event began.

A few dozen women, dressed in long red dresses and white head coverings like the handmaids in the Margaret Atwood novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” were balancing an Israeli flagpole on their noses with drummers, horn players and at least one mace. .

The Jerusalem demonstration was smaller than the one at the same location a week ago, but about 75,000 people showed up an hour and a quarter after it was scheduled to start, crowd control expert Ofer Grinboim Liron told CNN. Liron is the CEO of Crowd Solutions, a company specializing in crowd dynamics at events and venues.

Protesters gathered on the road around the Israeli Knesset near the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Monday as Netanyahu’s government introduced a judicial overhaul bill.

At 4:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. ET), protesters began to disperse, a CNN crew there observed. Demonstrations mostly ended in the evening local time in Jerusalem.

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But soon, as parliament began a session to officially debate the bill for its first reading, chaotic scenes emerged inside the Knesset.

Several opposition lawmakers from former prime minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party raised Israeli flags in the chamber, some slung them over their shoulders, and shouted at government lawmaker Simcha Rothman as the debate began. Knesset security took flags away from lawmakers and escorted some out of the chamber.

The bills have so far sparked weeks of public protests, a plea from President Isaac Herzog to delay negotiations and a rare intervention in domestic Israeli politics by US President Joe Biden.

Demonstrators in Tel Aviv took to the streets on Monday dressed as handmaids from the dystopian book “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Netanyahu’s coalition is seeking the biggest overhaul of the Israeli legal system since the country’s founding. The most important changes would allow a simple majority in the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court rulings.

The reforms seek to change the way judges are selected and remove independent legal advisers from government ministries.

US President Joe Biden expressed concern about the reforms: “The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, an independent judiciary. Building consensus for fundamental changes is critical. We need to make sure people buy into them so they can last.” “

On Sunday, Netanyahu backed judicial reform.

“Israel is a democracy and will be a democracy with majority rule and proper protection of civil liberties,” he said in an address to a conference of leaders of major American Jewish organizations.

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“All democracies must respect the will of other free peoples, and we respect their democratic decisions.

“There is a lot of rhetoric that is blatantly reckless and dangerous, including calls for bloodshed in the streets and calls for civil war. That is not going to happen. There is not going to be a civil war,” the prime minister added. .

CNN’s Hadas Gold, Richard Allen Greene and Amir Tal report from Jerusalem. CNN’s Mia Alberti reports from Beirut, Lebanon.

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