An aerial view shows protesters as they take part in a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his nationalist coalition government's judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Israel July 8, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

Tel Aviv: Tens of thousands of Israeli protesters packed Tel Aviv and other cities on Saturday to demonstrate against proposed legal reforms they say could mean more authoritarian government.

Demonstrators have kept up the pressure with weekly rallies against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returned to power in December at the head of a coalition with ultra-Orthodox Jewish and extreme-right allies.

Israeli media estimated turnout at Saturday’s protest in Tel Aviv - the 27th since the reform agenda was unveiled in January - at 150,000, ahead of a vote Monday in parliament on a key provision of the proposed overhaul.

Police do not give the number of demonstrators.

“We must act against what the Netanyahu government is doing to our country and to the Israeli dream,” historian Yuval Noah Harari told the rally.

“If the Netanyahu government does not stop, it will soon learn what happens when we get angry,” he said.

Police used water cannon to disperse some 100 demonstrators who blocked a main highway in the coastal city, an AFP journalist said.

The government argues the judicial reform, which would give politicians more power over the courts, is necessary to ensure a better balance of power.

After unsuccessful talks with the opposition following Netanyahu’s late March announcement of a “pause” to allow for negotiations, the government is taking the offensive once again this week.

Monday will see the first reading of a bill aimed at excluding the judiciary’s right to rule on the “reasonableness” of government decisions.

One of its potential effects would be on the appointment of ministers. Netanyahu in January was forced to dismiss cabinet member Aryeh Deri after intervention by the Supreme Court over a previous tax evasion conviction.

Organisers have announced a day of protest for Tuesday.

Amit Lev, 40, a tech executive, said: “If we don’t stop what is happening now, there’ll be no going back.”

He said the draft law to be introduced on Monday “is part of a series of laws, each of which allows the passage of the other”.

These laws, he said, aim “to prevent the judiciary from criticising government decisions that do not fall under the remit of any other law”.

Nira, a 59-year-old physiotherapist who preferred not to give her last name, said: “If this law passes we will not be able to live as we wish. I’m not at peace right now about our future here.”