Israel’s parliament on Monday approved a key portion of a judicial overhaul plan backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that has sparked months of mass street protests.
The vote came after a stormy legislative session in which opposition lawmakers chanted “shame” at the majority who favored the changes and then walked out of the chamber in protest.
The remaining legislators voted 64-0 for the first of sweeping changes that call for curbing powers of the judiciary, from limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to challenge parliamentary decisions to changing the way judges are selected.
In the Monday vote, lawmakers approved a provision that would prevent judges from overturning government decisions on the grounds that they are “unreasonable.” The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, a civil society group, immediately said it would challenge the new law in the Supreme Court and that more street protests are planned.
Netanyahu and his allies in Israel’s right-wing government say the changes are needed to limit the power of unelected judges in a country that has no written constitution. But the changes have deeply split Israel, with more secular people in the Jewish state opposing the overhaul and more religious segments favoring it.
The changes have drawn the ire of business leaders, military reservists and legal officials. Some see it as a power grab spurred by the personal grievances of Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.
Opponents of the overhaul say the legislation would damage the system of checks and balances among the branches of government and push the country toward authoritarian rule.
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the streets near parliament in recent days to oppose the Netanyahu plan, with Israeli authorities Monday firing water cannons at the protesters in Jerusalem to keep them under control.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu's supporters thronged central Tel Aviv — normally the setting for anti-government protests.
In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden late Sunday had urged Israel to hold off on a vote until greater consensus could be reached.
After the vote, the White House said, “It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre added, “We understand talks are ongoing and likely to continue over the coming weeks and months to forge a broader compromise even with the Knesset [the Israeli parliament] in recess. The United States will continue to support the efforts of President [Isaac] Herzog and other Israeli leaders as they seek to build a broader consensus through political dialogue.”
Netanyahu’s leadership in the dispute was interrupted by his being hospitalized. He was discharged on Monday after having a heart pacemaker implanted on Sunday and was in parliament to lead support for the changes.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters