Chaos erupts in Knesset over judicial reforms amid nationwide protests

Some opposition lawmakers were ejected from the committee room after heckling the chairman as thousands of Israelis take to the streets


At least 14 Israeli lawmakers were ejected from a fiery Knesset committee meeting this morning as tensions in Israel reached boiling point over the government's controversial judicial reforms.

The Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee met this morning to advance legislation that would impose sweeping changes to Israel's legal and judicial systems.

However, opposition lawmakers vehemently objected, chanting "shame" and loudly disrupting the committee, with at least 14 removed from the meeting room by orderlies.

The scenes in the Knesset come amid huge protests outside the parliament in Jerusalem, and also in Tel Aviv, with tens of thousands taking to the streets to voice their opposition to the government's proposed reforms.

This morning, a Knesset committee debated and voted on a key part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to radically overhaul the Judicial Selection Committee, which is the mechanism for appointing judges.

Currently, judges are appointed by a committee of nine members: the Minister of Justice , another cabinet minister, the President of the Supreme Court, two other justices of the Supreme Court, two Members of Knesset, and two representatives of the Israel Bar Association.

However, part of Netanyahu's proposed reforms would give the government five of the nine seats on the committee, with just a simple majority required to appoint a judge to any court in Israel.

Opponents of the reform argue that it would give the coalition too much power, whereas proponents have pointed to the U.S. Senate, which approves Supreme Court justices by simple majority, often along partisan lines.

However, chaos erupted prior to the vote, with opposition lawmakers shouting down members of the coalition, with some having to be physically restrained. At least 14 parliamentarians were ejected from the meeting.

Despite the interruptions, the committee voted to send the legislation to the full Knesset for its first reading, which is likely to take place next week.

After the fiery session, recriminations quickly began. Far-right coalition member and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich tweeted that "dialogue is important", and added: "But sadly, the opposition proves again and again that it is not interested in dialogue, but rather violent and unacceptable belligerence. I congratulate my colleague, Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chair MK Simcha Rothman, for not surrendering to violence and running the committee hearings with professionalism."

Likud MK Danny Danon said that opposition MKs "behaved disgracefully", adding: "I remind the members of the opposition – you lost the elections."

The chaos came is spite of President Isaac Herzog's plea in a 'special address to the nation' last night in which he appealed for all sides to come together and compromise, warning that the Jewish state is "on the brink of constitutional and social collapse."

Meanwhile, at least 60,000 Israelis have taken to the streets in Jerusalem this morning to protest against the changes that are advancing rapidly through the judicial protest.

Israel Railways put on extra changes this morning as the platforms in Tel Aviv were rammed with protesters heading to Jerusalem. Thousands more made their way in cars and buses to make their voices heard outside the Knesset, with chants of "democracy" heard.

Addressing the tens of thousands of protesters in Jerusalem, former prime minister and current opposition leader Yair Lapid said: "We will not stay quiet as they destroy everything that is precious and sacred to us. They hear us, and suddenly discover that we’re not ready to play the game the way they planned it. We’re not here just to pay taxes.

“If they continue this craziness, don’t talk to us about unity. There’s no unity when only one side makes the rules. What they hear here from this place isn’t the voice of exhaustion, it’s the voice of hope… it’s what makes our voice clear and loud."

“People of Israel, we will fight in the streets, we’ll fight until we win,” he declared.

Tahel, a working mother from Herzliya, was one of the many who chose to pull her children out of school to attend the protest in Jerusalem. Accompanied by her two young children and husband, she told the Times of Israel: “I don’t have vacation days from work, but it was important for me to come."

Etty Pass, 74, from Ramat Gan, who arrived at the protest alone, told the publication: “I am worried for the future of my three grandchildren. It will be a dictatorship like Hungary or Poland. This isn’t like it was when I was younger."

The main road in Tel Aviv was also blocked off by police as protesters took over the streets and brought key roads to a standstill.

The rallies are expected to continue throughout the day, with thousands more still en route to Jerusalem to be part of the protests. Although some passing motorists stopped to heckle the crowds, according to the Times of Israel, the protests have so far remained peaceful.

READ MORE: Israeli president: ‘We are on the brink of constitutional and social collapse’

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