Thousands of Israelis blocked major highways and held dozens of rallies across central Israel on Tuesday to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to finalize a law next week that would limit the power of the Supreme Court.
Despite temperatures of more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit in some places, protesters marched through several cities in a renewed effort to stop the government proceeding with a binding vote on the law in Parliament, which is likely to be on Monday.
Some held huge roadside banners that read “Netanyahu divides the nation,” while others displayed a giant picture of Theodor Herzl, a founding father of modern Zionism, emblazoned with the slogan: “This is not what I meant.”
One group hung a giant version of the Israeli declaration of independence from a highway flyover, and another blocked the doors to the Tel Aviv stock exchange. Women’s rights activists — dressed in crimson robes inspired by characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a novel by Margaret Atwood about a patriarchal, totalitarian state that was made into a television series — rallied in Raanana, central Israel.
By midmorning, the police said they had arrested 17 protesters for violating public order.
Protesters fear the law would undermine democracy by reducing judicial oversight over the cabinet, allow greater government overreach and pave the way for a more conservative, religious and patriarchal society. Mr. Netanyahu’s government says that the plan would improve democracy by making elected lawmakers less beholden to unelected judges.
The protests came just hours after President Biden invited Mr. Netanyahu to a meeting in the United States in the coming months, months after Mr. Biden said he would not meet with the prime minister “in the near term.”
A date for the meeting was not set, and the offer stopped short of an invitation to the White House itself. But the news still came as a blow to the protesters, who had hoped that Mr. Biden would use his influence over Mr. Netanyahu to persuade him to suspend the legislative process.
The U.S. government is a major ally of Israel, providing it with nearly $4 billion in annual aid, as well as weapons and defense systems, and systematic diplomatic cover at the United Nations Security Council.
Mr. Biden is set to welcome Israel’s figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, to the White House on Tuesday, in another sign of strong U.S.-Israel ties.
Absent further U.S. intervention, the protest movement is trying to exert domestic pressure on Mr. Netanyahu through the labor unions and military reservists. Thousands of members of the Israeli military reserve have threatened to withdraw from volunteer duty if the law goes ahead — a move that could affect the operational capacity of key military sectors, particularly the Air Force, which is heavily reliant on reserve pilots.
Israel’s main labor union, the Histadrut, says it may organize a general strike to protest the law, a move that helped bring about the suspension of an earlier legislative push in March.
But the union has yet to officially confirm its position. To pressure it into joining their cause, some protesters rallied outside the Histadrut headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.