Netanyahu Digs In on Court Overhaul in the Face of Mass Protests


JERUSALEM — Hours after his coalition passed a divisive law making it harder to remove him from office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed Thursday to proceed with an even more contentious judicial overhaul that has divided the country, spurring unrest in the military and mass protests in the streets.

In a defiant speech on prime-time television, Netanyahu promised to go ahead next week with plans to give the government greater control over appointments to the Supreme Court — emphatically squashing rumors that had swirled throughout the day that he was about to back down.

His speech capped a day in which thousands of protesters demonstrated across Israel against the plan.

The proposal would give the government more control over judicial appointments, weaken the Supreme Court by severely restricting judicial review of legislation, and allow Parliament to override court decisions. The plan by the far-right government has become one of the most controversial domestic issues in Israel’s history, sparking weeks of angry protests by opponents who say that it would subvert the country’s democratic system.

But despite the growing criticism, Netanyahu stood by his plan Thursday, declaring that it would restore balance between elected lawmakers and unelected judges. “It is not the end of democracy; it is the strengthening of democracy,” he said.

The opposition immediately dismissed the prime minister’s conciliatory tone, calling it a distraction from the main message of his speech: that he will not bow to criticism of the judiciary plan. They vowed to carry on protesting.

The drama in the streets and the halls of power Thursday followed in the wake of a vote in Parliament earlier in the day to make it more difficult to declare prime ministers incapacitated and remove them from office.

Critics said the bill was aimed at protecting Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.

Netanyahu denies seeking any changes to insulate himself from prosecution or punishment.

The new law, passed by a bare majority of 61 in the 120-seat Parliament, takes the power to remove a prime minister out of the hands of the attorney general and the courts and grants it instead to Parliament. If a prime minister were unwilling to be removed from office, even temporarily, a vote of three-quarters of Cabinet ministers and a supermajority of 80 lawmakers would be required.

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