JERUSALEM (AP) — Thousands of Israelis joined a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Friday in the latest protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to push through a controversial overhaul of the justice system.
Hundreds of protesters grew into thousands as Israelis joined the 70 kilometer (about 45 mile) march throughout the day in a demonstration against one of the most far-right Israeli governments in history.
Protesters planned to camp overnight in Shoresh, about 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Jerusalem, before heading to Israel’s parliament on Saturday, the Jewish holy day of Shabbat.
The march comes a day after Netanyahu vowed to continue the plan, defying protesters, increasing military reservist defections and calls from US President Joe Biden to halt the plan.
Ronen Rosenblatt, 58, a tech worker who joined the march after months of frustration with Netanyahu’s government, described the event as jovial, with people united behind a common goal of “ending this stupidity, this dictatorship”.
Protesters carried Israeli flags and political signs in a four-kilometer (2.5-mile) long line that snaked through olive groves and farmland. They had left the Tel Aviv seaside on Thursday, camping for the night about halfway to Jerusalem, near the Latrun monastery.
Rising on Friday to share meals and coffee, protesters took down their tents while others prayed with arms wrapped in tefillin before resuming marching toward Jerusalem and the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Lawmakers are expected to vote Monday on a bill that would reduce the Supreme Court’s oversight powers by limiting its ability to overturn decisions it deems “unreasonable.” The standard is intended as a safeguard against corruption and inappropriate appointments of unqualified persons.
The bill is one of the key elements of the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plan. Netanyahu and his allies — a collection of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties — say the plan is necessary to limit what they see as excessive powers for unelected judges.
Critics say the legislation will concentrate power in the hands of Netanyahu and his far-right allies and undermine the country’s system of checks and balances. They also say Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has a conflict of interest.
The proposal has bitterly divided the Israeli public and prompted calls from Biden that Netanyahu forge a broad national consensus before passing any legislation.
The judicial overhaul plan was announced shortly after Netanyahu took office as prime minister following November’s legislative elections. It was Israel’s fifth election in less than four years, with all votes serving as a referendum on its leadership.
The presidents of major Israeli universities said they would stage a strike on Sunday to protest the bill, local media reported. Doctors staged a two-hour “warning strike” on Wednesday to protest the overhaul, which they said would wreak havoc on the healthcare system by giving politicians greater control over public health.
They promised tougher measures if the bill is passed.