(Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel’s Knesset held its first reading of the controversial bill to reform the Israeli judiciary early on 21 February, which – if passed – would give Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition the authority to pick and choose judges.
Sixty-three voted in favor of the bill, and 47 voted against it, with no abstentions. Three readings are required for the bill to be approved, however.
A day earlier, the Knesset had voted to move forward with the judicial overhaul, sparking opposition in parliament and in the streets, where thousands marched in objection to what some Israelis are calling a threat to their ‘democracy.’
“A great night and a great day,” Netanyahu tweeted, while opposition members swore to “fight for the soul of the nation.”
This comes as part of the massive outbreak of demonstrations against the Netanyahu government last month, which have spilled over into February. Now, as the judicial overhaul becomes a closer reality, these protests have intensified.
Many Israelis have accused Netanyahu of seeking these reforms in order to weaken the Supreme Court, thereby allowing the prime minister to give himself immunity from prosecution, as he has been embroiled in a number of corruption scandals over the past few years.
In the midst of these political tensions, which have divided Israelis significantly, the shekel dropped around one percent to the dollar, prompting economists to warn that the reforms could trigger an ‘investor and capital flight’ from Israel.
However, a member of the coalition and the chairman of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, Moshe Gafne, said: “There is no link between the justice system reforms and any blow to Israel’s economy … Any attempt at linkage is politicized.”
The cases against Netanyahu at the high court have sparked fears among his allies that he could potentially be declared unfit for office, prompting his far-right Likud party to submit a bill that would ‘drastically’ limit the grounds for his disqualification. The bill states that only the prime minister himself, or a 75 percent majority of his cabinet, could declare Netanyahu unfit for office, and only for reasons relating to physical and mental health.
This has reinforced the widespread fear that Netanyahu and his government pose a threat to ‘Israeli democracy.’
However, Israelis seem less concerned with their new government’s policies regarding the Palestinians, which have called for a complete annexation of the West Bank and have seen a major boost in violent and deadly raids.
Just a day ago, 16-year-old Montaser Mohammad Deeb Shawwa succumbed to Israeli army gunshot wounds sustained during a raid on Nablus’ Balata refugee camp.