Thousands rally in Jerusalem in favor of planned judicial overhaul

By Dedi and Hayun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated in Jerusalem on Thursday to show support for controversial planned legislation by the far-right coalition government which would see the country's highest court stripped of much of its powers.

Israelis remain polarised over the planned legislation that proponents say would restore balance to Israeli authorities and critics say removes checks on those in power.

A sea of blue and white flags, which have also been used as a symbol of the protests against the planned legislation, could be seen outside Israel's parliament. Many demonstrators were wearing pins and holding flags supporting far-right Israeli political parties.

"The nation demands a judicial reform," demonstrators chanted.

Demonstrations against the judicial overhaul plans, however, have gripped the country for weeks and have garnered large crowds in cities across the country, mostly and consecutively every Saturday night since the plans were announced. Recent polls have found the overhaul plans are deeply unpopular.

"To all my friends who are sitting here, see how much power we have," far-right lawmaker and Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich addressed the crowd. "They have the media and they have tycoons who will fund the protests, but we have the nation."

"We will fix what needs to be fixed," Smotrich said.

"The nation demands a judicial reform," the crowd chanted in response.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin said the two million Israelis who voted for the current government voted for a judicial reform and vowed "to make a meaningful correction in the current situation."

Many in Israeli society, including the president whose role is largely ceremonial, have been calling for the opposing sides to reach a compromise and have asked the coalition to soften its initial proposals.

The minister told the demonstrators it was "possible to reach an agreement," through dialogue with the other side, which was met with mixed reactions from the crowd.

"They haven't come to terms with the fact that we won," Israel's far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, told the crowd, accusing the left of trying to desecrate Israel's memorial day for fallen soldiers.

"We will not break, we will not give in," he said. (This story has been refiled to restore the first name of Israel's national security minister in paragraph 12)

(Reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by Daniel Wallis)