Israel: Protests and strikes against Benjamin Netanyahu continue

by Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – From doctors launching a 24-hour strike to newspapers covering their front pages with black photographs, discontent was felt in Israel on Tuesday, the day after a vote on a key measure of a controversial judicial reform bill touted by Benjamin Netanyahu.

The text voted on Monday restricts the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down certain government decisions it deems “unfair”.

The major measure of reform was said in January by Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox government to rebalance powers while condemning the politicization and interference of the country’s highest court. Opponents are seeing it as an attack on democracy.

As protests against the bill escalate for months, protesters took to the streets on Monday night, blocking roads and clashing with law enforcement.

An advertisement funded by employees of the high-tech sector, which appeared in the country’s major daily newspapers, said, “A dark day for Israeli democracy.”

The United States called Monday’s vote “unfortunate” and the United Kingdom called on Israel to maintain its independent judiciary.

The crisis has polarized Israeli society, hit the economy and spread to the military. According to the organizers of the demonstrations, thousands of volunteers are threatening not to report for service if the reforms are successful. Former military officers have warned that Israel’s defense capabilities could be affected.

The Israeli Order of Doctors has called for a 24-hour strike by doctors across the country except in Jerusalem, where clashes have escalated.

First coming to power in 1996, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing corruption charges, is facing his most serious domestic crisis.

(Reporting by Dan Williams, Ari Rabinovich and Henriette Chaker in Jerusalem; Andrew MacAskill in London; French Edition Zifan Liu, Editing by Kate Enstringer)

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