What is the crisis in Israel about?

time:2023-06-05 13:49:29 source:Al Jazeera

Israel is in the grip of one of the most serious domestic crises in its history, with uproar over the government's plans to change the way the judicial system works. Here is a brief guide to what is going on.

Since the start of the year, huge weekly protests have been held by people opposed to the government's reform plans. The scale of the protests has escalated, with hundreds of thousands of people packing the streets in Tel Aviv - Israel's commercial capital - and other towns and cities across the country.

Protesters have called for the reforms to be scrapped and for the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to resign. His political rivals have spearheaded the protests, though the fierce opposition to the reforms has cut across political lines.

Significantly a number of military reservists - the backbone of Israel's armed forces - have protested by threatening to refuse to report for duty, triggering warnings that the crisis even threatens Israel's security.

The government argues that voters elected it on a promise of reforming the judiciary, which it considers as interfering too much with legislation, biased on liberal issues and undemocratic in the way judges are selected.

Mr Netanyahu's opponents say the reforms will severely undermine the country's democracy by weakening the judicial system which historically has kept a check on the government's use of its power.

Underlying this is strong opposition to the kind of government currently in office - the most right-wing in Israel's history - and to Mr Netanyahu himself.

Critics say the reforms will shield Mr Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for alleged corruption - he denies the charges - and help the government pass laws without any brakes.

They concern the power of the government versus the power of the courts to scrutinise and even overrule the government. The government - and others - say reform is overdue, though the plans go much further than many people would like.

Under the government's plans:

One reform has already been passed into law - removing the power of the attorney general to pronounce a sitting prime minister as unfit for office. There had been speculation that the attorney general was preparing to do this with Mr Netanyahu due to a conflict of interest between the reforms and his ongoing trial for alleged corruption.

At the end of March, Mr Netanyahu postponed a key part of the legislation - to heavily politicise the judicial selection committee - for at least month "to give time for broad agreement". The move was cautiously welcomed by the opposition, who said it had potential.

Negotiators from both sides have been holding discussions while the Knesset has been on a break. It is due to reconvene on 30 April.

However weekly mass protests have continued despite the pause, while as many as 200,000 people in favour of reform held a rally at the end of April, calling on the government not to concede.

The prime minister is also dependent on far-right ministers in his own cabinet, without whose support his government could collapse. Those ministers have insisted the reforms must be passed and not watered down.

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