Judging the Judges

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Tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated across the country over the weekend to protest against the conservative government’s plan to overhaul Israel’s top court, a move critics say could weaken the Jewish nation’s democracy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Activists and opposition parties took to the streets in cities and towns nationwide, calling for the government to scrap the controversial plan. At least 80,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square demanding the government “take its hands off the court.”

The demonstrations came days after the new ruling coalition – comprised of right-wing and religious parties – proposed curbing the power of Israel’s judiciary.

The changes would include giving the governing coalition more sway over which judges are appointed, limiting the court’s ability to strike down laws, and allowing a simple majority of lawmakers to override the Supreme Court should it strike down legislation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies said the changes are necessary to restrict what they call rampant judicial overreach, as well as create a balance between the Supreme Court’s power and the legislature. Others have accused the court of disproportionately striking down bills connected to the right wing’s legislative agenda.

The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled against bills that the right-wing coalition seeks to pass, including one that formalizes a long-standing exemption from military service for ultraorthodox Israeli religious students.

However, critics rejected the accusations and warned that the overhaul risks undermining Israel’s existing system of checks and balances.

Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut issued a rare public statement where she denounced the move as “a plan to crush the justice system.” She added that in the past, the court has exhibited restraint when intervening in government decisions.

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