Get free Israel updates
We will send it to you myFT Daily Digest Email latest round up Israel News every morning.
Protesters poured into Jerusalem on Saturday after a group of 10,000 reservists said they would stop volunteering for duty in a last-ditch effort to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt controversial judicial reforms.
The battle over the government’s plans has plunged Israel into its deepest political crisis in years, sparking 29 weeks of mass protests, criticism of US President Joe Biden’s administration and warnings from Israel’s own central bank that the fighting is hurting the economy.
Waving Israeli flags and braving soaring temperatures, thousands of protesters entered the parliament in Jerusalem, a four-day, 70km march from Tel Aviv that organizers called a bid to “save democracy”. According to Israeli media, protests took place in numerous other cities, including one in Tel Aviv with around 100,000 people.
The street rallies have been accompanied by growing resistance from reservists in Israel’s military, with a group called Brothers in Arms saying on Saturday that 10,000 of its members would stop reporting for duty in protest of the government’s plans.
The announcement followed a similar move on Friday by more than 1,100 Air Force reservists, who acknowledged to the military’s chief spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, that the military’s “cohesion has suffered, [in a way] Which will take a long time to repair.”
In a sign of growing concern among senior officials about the impact of the reservists’ threats, Defense Minister Yoav Galant said on Friday night that he was taking steps to “ensure the security” of Israel, after Channel 12 reported that he was trying to persuade government and opposition leaders to delay the overhaul and reach a settlement.
However, other government ministers, including Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, insisted on Saturday that the overhaul would go ahead as planned. Chickley also lashed out at reservists refusing to report for duty, likening their behavior to extortion.
“The [parliament] And the government of Israel cannot capitulate to threats to protect political subordinates,” he wrote on Twitter.
The first plank of the overhaul – which would prevent Israel’s top court from using the standard of “reasonableness” to strike down government decisions – is due to be voted on by parliament next week.
Government officials say these and other changes, such as restructuring the panel that appoints judges, are needed to rein in an overly powerful judiciary that they believe pursues a biased, left-wing agenda.
However, critics say the government’s proposals would remove key checks on Israeli governments, pave the way for weakening minority protections, promote corruption and damage the economy.
On Saturday, several former leaders of the Israeli military, the Mossad intelligence agency and the Shin Bet internal security agency published a letter calling on Netanyahu to delay the overhaul and support the reservists’ actions.
“The legislative process violates the social contract that has existed for 75 years between thousands of reserve commanders and soldiers,” former security officials wrote. “[We] You and your government are holding up a bright red stop sign.”