JERUSALEM (AP) — Thousands of Israelis joined a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Friday in the latest protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise to push through a controversial reform of the justice system.
Hundreds of protesters turned into thousands as Israelis joined the 70-kilometer (about 45-mile) march throughout the day in a demonstration against one of the most far-right governments in Israel’s history.
The protesters planned to camp overnight in Shoresh, about 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Jerusalem, before heading to Israel’s parliament on Saturday, the Jewish holy day of Shabbat.
The march comes a day after Netanyahu vowed to go ahead with the plan, defying protesters, increasing defections from military reservists and calls by US President Joe Biden to suspend the plan.
Ronen Rosenblatt, 58, a high-tech worker who joined the march after months of frustration with the Netanyahu government, described the event as jovial, with people united behind the common goal of “stopping this stupidity, this dictatorship.”
Protesters carried Israeli flags and political signs in a four-kilometre (2.5-mile) long line that wound between olive groves and farmland. They left the Tel Aviv coast on Thursday and camped overnight about halfway to Jerusalem, near the Latrun monastery.
Rising on Friday to share meals and coffee, the protesters dismantled their tents while others prayed with their arms wrapped in tefillin before they all began marching again towards Jerusalem and the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Lawmakers are expected to vote Monday on a bill that would reduce the Supreme Court’s oversight powers by limiting its ability to overturn decisions it deems “unreasonable.” The standard is intended as a safeguard to protect against corruption and improper appointments of unqualified persons.
The bill is one of several key pieces of the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform plan. Netanyahu and his allies, a collection of ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, say the plan is necessary to curb what they see as excessive powers of unelected judges.
Critics say the legislation will concentrate power in the hands of Netanyahu and his far-right allies and undermine the country’s system of checks and balances. They also say that Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruptionhave a conflict of interest.
The proposal has bitterly divided the Israeli public and has attracted Biden appeals that Netanyahu forge a broad national consensus before passing any legislation.
The judicial reform plan was announced shortly after Netanyahu took office as prime minister following parliamentary elections in November. It was Israel’s fifth election in less than four years, and all the votes served as a referendum on his leadership.
The presidents of the main Israeli universities said they would go on strike on Sunday to protest the bill, local media reported. Doctors staged a two-hour “warning strike” on Wednesday to protest the reform that they said would wreak havoc on the health system by giving politicians greater control over public health.
They promised tougher measures if the bill is voted on.