update deskIsrael News

Hundreds pray for unity at Kotel ahead of judicial reform vote

Following morning prayers, the organizers encouraged participants to form a human chain from the Western Wall to the Knesset.

Reform opponents attend prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, July 23, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Reform opponents attend prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, July 23, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

Hundreds of Israelis from both sides of the political divide gathered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Sunday morning for a mass prayer event, as parliament advanced a much-debated bill to limit the Supreme Court’s use of the so-called reasonableness standard.

Sunday’s prayer rally was attended by prominent religious Zionist rabbis, including those who support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform proposals, leaders in the anti-reform protest movement, as well as opposition politicians, most notably National Unity Party Knesset member Benny Gantz.

“There is a rift in the nation and it must be treated. Netanyahu must stop the legislation,” Gantz told journalists at the Western Wall, according to Israel’s Channel 12 news.

Following morning prayers, which included a prayer for the State of Israel and its leadership, the organizers encouraged participants to form a human chain, stretching from the holy site to the Knesset, where lawmakers are set to vote on a bill to curb judicial oversight of government decisions.

Its critics say the reasonableness standard is legally vague and has been used by the court to encroach upon the government’s authority. However, opponents of Netanyahu’s reform plans say the legislation will erode Israel’s system of checks and balances and lead to abuse of power.

The coalition government wants to pass the bill into law before the Knesset goes into recess on July 30, and the final vote is expected to take place on Monday.

Last week, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee gave the bill its initial approval. With nine committee members voting in favor and seven opposed, the amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary was sent back to the plenum for the second and third readings needed for it to become law.

On Saturday night, simultaneous protests against the government’s judicial reform initiative occurred across the country for the 29th consecutive week, with multiple arrests following clashes with police.

Several streets in Jerusalem were blocked to traffic after thousands of demonstrators descended upon Israel’s capital. Many of the protesters marched the 40 miles from Tel Aviv, with others joining along the way. The protesters pitched tents at Gan Sacher Park near the Knesset, Supreme Court and other governmental institutions.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, supporters of Netanyahu’s proposal to reform Israel’s judicial system are expected to gather in Tel Aviv for another “March of the Million” mega-rally. “On the eve of the conclusion of the legislative proceedings [to cancel the] reasonableness clause, the entire national camp will come to Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv,” organizers announced.

“Stand alongside the heads of the national camp and the Knesset members of the coalition and tell them: The people are with you! Complete the legislation! Sixty-four mandates are not second-class citizens,” continued the flier, which was signed by 29 Zionist NGOs.

The previous large-scale protest in support of judicial reform, which took place near the Knesset in Jerusalem on April 27, was attended by some 600,000 people, organizers said, putting to bed claims by the opposition that Israeli citizens are united against the plan.

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