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Larger Israeli anti-government protests... 130,000 people in Tel Aviv

There is a growing public backlash against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government's push for "judicial reform" to cripple the judiciary.

According to local media such as the daily Haaretz on the 21st (local time), anti-government demonstrations were held on Saturday in major Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv, that evening.

The Israeli anti-government protests, which began on Jan. 7 and entered their third week, are growing in size. At least 110,000 people gathered at a demonstration on Tel Aviv's Kaplan Road and 10,000 in Tel Aviv's Habima Square to protest the government's attempt to neutralize the judiciary. More than 6,000 people rallied in the central city of Haifa and more than 4,000 in Jerusalem.

The protests, led by opposition and civic groups, included a large number of lawyers, including the former prosecutor general, and ordinary citizens.

"People are gathering here and voting with their steps," said former prosecutor general Dina Gilbert, adding, "Our message is clear. That's enough," he said, urging the Netanyahu government to halt its pursuit of judicial reforms.

Author David Grossman, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2017, lamented that "more and more young people don't want to live in this country" and that "if a lot of people feel like foreigners in their home country, it must mean that something is wrong."

"We will defend our democracy against hatred, LGBTQ hatred and attempts to change the system of government that trample on our rights," said Hilla Peer, president of the LGBT group Aguda, stressing that "we will not back down a single millimeter."

Netanyahu's coalition government, which returned to power last month, is pursuing judicial reforms on the grounds that the Supreme Court's powers should be reduced to balance the government's separation of powers.

The outline of the judicial reform proposal is to fundamentally deprive the Supreme Court of its judicial review of the "Basic Law," which is a soft constitution, and to allow the Supreme Court's decision on other laws to be overturned by a simple majority vote of the unicameral National Assembly (Knesset).

However, opposition and civic groups have criticized such judicial reforms as a "political coup" that undermines democracy by crippling the independence of the judiciary.

Far-right ministers in the coalition are also facing a backlash from the Arab world and the international community for their religiously sensitive provocations to the holy sites of East Jerusalem and their policies of pressuring the Palestinians.

On that day, the police deployed troops around the protest site, but did not stop the protesters from occupying the roads.

Israeli Police Commissioner Koby Yabtai said, "Police forces have been deployed at all protest sites. This is to maintain order and ensure freedom of expression and freedom of resistance."

Tel Aviv police chief Ami Ashad stressed that protesters would be allowed to occupy highways and would not use any means to control crowds.

National Security Minister Itamar ben-Gvir, a far-right man who oversees police, had earlier ordered protesters to crack down on occupying roads. [YonhapNews]

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