Israelis protest judicial changes for eight straight weeks

STORY: Protesters say the changes will threaten democratic checks and balances on ministers by the courts and accuse Netanyahu of trying to escape a legal case against him.

The government's plan has sparked nationwide protests in Israel and caused alarm among economists, former security officials and legal experts at home and abroad.

Critics say it undermines the courts' independence while handing the government unbridled power, which in turn would endanger minority rights, encourage corruption, isolate Israel diplomatically and wreak havoc on its economy.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges that he denies, says the reforms will strengthen democracy and boost business. He has dismissed protesters as "anarchists" unwilling to accept the decisive right-wing victory in a Nov. 1 election.

The Knesset (parliament) passed the first reading of the first bill of the government’s proposed judicial reform by a vote of 63 for and 47 against after midnight on Tuesday (February 21).

Numerous opinion polls have shown a majority of Israelis against the government's planned judicial overhaul as it presently stands.

The government says the reforms are designed to end overreach into politics by an unrepresentative Supreme Court. Critics say Netanyahu seeks legal changes that will hurt Israel's democratic checks and balances, foster corruption and bring diplomatic isolation.