Israel police crack down on legal reform protest
Israeli police clashed Wednesday with protesters rallying against the government's judicial reform programme which critics say threatens democracy, as lawmakers held a preliminary vote on the latest controversial bill.
Demonstrators in Tel Aviv blocked some streets, and police employed stun grenades, water cannon and officers on horseback in a rare use of force in the coastal city, AFP journalists said.
Some 39 people were arrested for "allegedly rioting and not obeying instructions by police officials", police said in a statement.
Eleven wounded protesters arrived at Tel Aviv's Ichilov hospital, a spokesman for the facility told AFP.
"I am here for democracy, for human rights, for justice," demonstrator Johann Kanal, 39, told AFP in Tel Aviv.
Another protester, 51-year-old lawyer Dana Niron, said: "We are blocking all the intersections, we're stopping the entire traffic in the entire country in hope that the current government will understand that we are dead serious and that we will do everything in our power to change the current path that they are taking."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back in a televised statement.
"The right to demonstrate is not the right to block the country," he said, accusing demonstrators of crossing "a red line".
"A sovereign country cannot tolerate anarchy," added Netanyahu, who returned to power late last year at the head of a coalition with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right allies.
The premier earlier stressed his support for the police, who "are acting against lawbreakers who are disrupting Israeli citizens' daily lives".
The rally in Tel Aviv came as lawmakers in Jerusalem passed in preliminary reading a bill limiting the chances of a prime minister being impeached.
Opponents say the measure is aimed at protecting Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges he denies.
MPs voted 62 to 20 in favour of the legislation, which proposes a three-quarter parliamentary majority to impeach a premier due to physical or mental incapacity.
Following the initial vote, the bill will pass to a parliamentary committee to consider whether it should be scrapped or returned to the chamber to continue the legislative process.
The broader judicial reform, announced in January, includes measures that critics argue are intended to hand politicians more power at the expense of the judiciary.
Netanyahu and his justice minister, Yariv Levin, argue the change is necessary to reset the balance between elected officials and the Supreme Court which they view as politicised.
Lawmakers also passed in preliminary reading a bill to impose the death penalty on "terrorists", with 55 MPs in favour and nine against.
Extreme-right politicians have repeatedly attempted to pass such legislation in the 120-seat chamber, but have failed to garner enough support.
Israel abolished the use of capital punishment for murder in civil courts in 1954, though it can still in theory be applied for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, treason and crimes against the Jewish people.