Jerusalem (CNN) Tens of thousands of demonstrators blocked roads in cities across Israel during Monday’s demonstrations, hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government introduced a controversial judicial reform bill.
Protesters in Jerusalem turned the streets around the Supreme Court and the Knesset into a sea of Israeli flags, which organizers were handing out before the event began.
Among the demonstrators were a few dozen women in long red dresses and white headdresses, like the maids in Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” along with two drummers, trumpeters and at least one balancing an Israeli flagpole on its nose. .
The Jerusalem demonstration was visibly smaller than a demonstration at the same location a week earlier, but still appeared to number about 75,000 an hour and a quarter after it was scheduled to begin, crowd control expert Ofer Greenboim Liron told CNN. Liron is the CEO of Crowd Solutions, a company that specializes in crowd dynamics at events and venues.
Protesters began to disperse by 4:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. ET), the CNN team there noted. The demonstration had largely ended by early evening local time in Jerusalem.
But soon after, chaotic scenes unfolded inside the Knesset as the bill’s discussion session officially began its first reading in parliament.
Several opposition lawmakers from former Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party raised Israeli flags in the hall, some draped them over their shoulders, and shouted at government lawmaker Simcha Rothman as the debate began. Knesset security pulled flags from the legislators and escorted some of them out of the hall.
The so far contentious judicial reform bill has sparked weeks of public protests, a plea from President Isaac Herzog to delay negotiations, and a rare intervention in Israeli domestic politics by US President Joe Biden.
Netanyahu’s coalition has been seeking a comprehensive reform of the Israeli legal system since the founding of the state. The most significant changes would allow a simple majority in the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court decisions.
The reforms also seek to change the way judges are selected, dismissing independent legal advisers to government ministries, whose opinions are binding.
US President Joe Biden has expressed his concerns about the reforms, saying: “The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary. Building consensus on fundamental changes is really important to make sure that people buy into them so they can be sustained.” “.
On Sunday, Netanyahu defended judicial reform.
“Israel is and will remain a democracy, with majority rule and adequate guarantees of civil liberties,” he said in a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
All democracies must respect the will of other free peoples, just as we respect their democratic decisions.
The prime minister added, “There has been a lot of reckless and frankly dangerous rhetoric, including calls for bloodshed in the streets and calls for civil war. It’s not going to happen. There won’t be a civil war.” .
CNN’s Hadas Gold and Richard Allen Green and Amir Tal report in Jerusalem. CNN’s Mia Alberti reported from Beirut, Lebanon.