JERUSALEM (AP) — Thousands of Israelis joined a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Friday in the latest protest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to push through a controversial overhaul of the judiciary system.
Hundreds of protesters became thousands as Israelis joined the 70-kilometer (roughly 45-mile) march throughout the day in a demonstration against one of Israel’s most far-right governments in history.
The demonstrators planned to camp overnight at Shoresh, about 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Jerusalem, before making their way to Israel’s parliament on Saturday, the Jewish holy day of Shabbat.
The march comes a day after Netanyahu vowed to press ahead with the plan, defying demonstrators, growing defections by military reservists and appeals from U.S. President Joe Biden to put the plan on hold.
Ronen Rosenblatt, 58, a high-tech worker who’d joined the march following months of frustration with Netanyahu’s government, described the event as jovial, with people united behind a common objective of “stopping this stupidity, this dictatorship.”
Protesters carried Israelis flags and political signs in a line four kilometers (2.5 miles) long that wound through olive orchards and farmland. They’d left seaside Tel Aviv on Thursday, camping overnight roughly halfway to Jerusalem near the Latrun Monastery.
Rising on Friday to shared meals and coffee, the protesters dismantled their tents as others prayed with their arms wrapped in tefillin before they all began marching again towards Jerusalem and the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Lawmakers are expected to vote Monday on a bill that would curtail the Supreme Court’s oversight powers by limiting its ability to strike down decisions it deems “unreasonable.” The standard is meant as a safeguard to protect against corruption and improper appointments of unqualified people.
The bill is one of several keystone pieces of the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plan. Netanyahu and his allies — a collection of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties — say the plan is needed to curb what they consider excessive powers of 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 balance. They also say Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has a conflict of interest.
The proposal has bitterly divided the Israeli public and drawn appeals from Biden for Netanyahu to 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 parliamentary elections. It was Israel’s fifth election in under four years, with all of the votes serving as a referendum on his leadership.
Presidents of major Israeli universities said they would hold a strike Sunday to protest the bill, local media reported. Doctors held a two-hour “warning strike” Wednesday to protest the overhaul, which they said would wreak havoc on the healthcare system by granting politicians greater control over public health.
They vowed more severe measures if the bill is voted through.