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Thousands demonstrate as the vote on limiting the powers of the Israeli court approaches

By Dan Williams

HEMED, Israel (Reuters) – Thousands of Israelis opposed to a judicial reform planned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marched into Jerusalem on Saturday as pressure mounts on his right-wing government to scrap a bill that would curtail the Supreme Court’s powers.

Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition says the bill, which parliament will vote on Monday, is needed to balance the branches of power because the court has become too interventionist.

Critics say it plays a vital role in guaranteeing civil rights in a country that has no constitution and a government-dominated unicameral parliament.

Carrying blue and white Israeli flags, a mile-long column of demonstrators marched up the main road to Jerusalem under a scorching summer sun, to the sound of beating drums and anti-government chants and cheers.

The demonstrators have been walking for days, camping at night and are often met by local residents who offer food and drink.

They plan to gather outside parliament ahead of a Sunday debate and subsequent vote on the bill, which would limit the Supreme Court’s powers to quash what it considers “unreasonable” government or ministerial decisions.

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Protest leader Shikma Bressler, who asked if she thought the protesters would succeed in stopping the vote, said she didn’t know.

“But the vote is not the final step,” she told Reuters. “This is why we are trying to build the strength in this country to choose good from evil, to choose light from darkness.”

The bill, proponents say, is designed to facilitate effective governance, with courts still retaining adequate judicial oversight. Opponents say the amendment will be rushed through parliament and will open the door to corruption and abuse of power.

Polls indicate widespread doubts among Israelis as the planned changes have affected the economy and worried key ally Washington, which has urged Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges he denies – to seek consensus on judicial reform.

The crisis has even divided the military, long seen as an apolitical melting pot for an unstable society, with war readiness concerns on both sides of the debate.

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(Written by Maayan Lubell; edited by John Stonestreet)

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