Israelis protest judicial reform for ninth week

Thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv Saturday for a ninth consecutive week to protest government legal reforms critics see as threatening democracy.

Protests also occurred in Jerusalem and Karmiel near Haifa.

The latest rally in Tel Aviv came after a similar demonstration on Wednesday when police employed stun grenades and water cannon in a rare use of force that led to about 39 arrests and 11 injuries in the coastal city.

Judicial reform is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's latest administration, an alliance with ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right parties which took office in late December.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, presents the overhaul as key to restoring balance between the branches of government in a system he believes gives judges too much power over elected officials.

"Crime Minister," said a large banner among the Tel Aviv protesters, who carried Israeli flags.

"Democracy! Democracy!" and "Shame!" they shouted.

The legislation would give more weight to the government in the committee that selects judges, and would deny the Supreme Court the right to strike down any amendments to so-called Basic Laws, Israel's quasi-constitution.

These previsions have already received first-reading endorsement from legislators.

Another element of the reforms would give the 120-member parliament power to overrule Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of 61 votes.

Analysts say such a derogation clause could allow lawmakers to uphold any annulment of the corruption charges Netanyahu is being tried on, should parliament vote to absolve him and the Supreme Court then rule against it.

Netanyahu denies the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and rejects any link between the reforms and his own court case.

The proposals could deal a "severe blow to the economy", former Bank of Israel governors have warned in the country that dubs itself the "start-up nation".