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Israel's Herzog warns of 'crisis' over judicial reform plan

STORY: Israel's president warned on Sunday that the country faced a constitutional crisis over a contested plan to rein in the judiciary.

President Isaac Herzog said, quote, "I am now focused on two critical roles that I believe I bear as president at this hour: averting a historic constitutional crisis and stopping the continued rift within our nation."

That rift was on display over weekend as thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reform the country's judicial system, which critics say would hamper the Supreme Court.

"We came here to fight for the democracy, and we would like to say that the current coalition in Israel would like to change the regime to make us like dark regime in the world. We will not accept it and we will fight for this democracy."

Netanyahu returned to power in an election last year at the head of a nationalist and religious coalition government. Proposed legislation would limit the high court's authority over government moves or parliamentary laws, and give politicians more say over appointing judges.

"I am here because I think that it is important, to be checks and balances in the democracy. I am concerned that the so-called reform that they are trying to pass is undermining checks and balances in the Israeli democracy."

Opponents of the reforms include the Supreme Court chief justice and the country's attorney-general.

And the proposed changes come as Netanyahu is on trial for corruption on charges he denies.

President Herzog, whose post lacks executive powers, said he was working non-stop with the relevant parties to promote dialog.

In remarks at his weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu made no mention of Herzog's overture, but he dismissed criticism that the proposed reforms were anti-democratic.

He said, "Similar things had been said by right wing and left wing governments and no one then thought about talking about an end to democracy. Truthfully, what we are aiming to do is to reform the balance between authorities as was in the state of Israel for 50 years and as is today in all Western democracies."

A survey published by the Israel Democracy Institute on Sunday noted a decline in public trust in the Supreme Court.

It also found that most Israelis - 55.6 percent - support the court having the ability to strike down laws passed by the Knesset parliament if they contradict principles of democracy.