Home/ News / World/  Israel’s Protest Leaders Aim to Keep Pressure on Netanyahu

TEL AVIV—Opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul are planning to hold mass protests across the country Saturday night, hoping to sustain a movement that pressured the premier to delay the divisive plan and engage in negotiations over a compromise.

Protests are being called for in cities across the country, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Saturday night would mark the 14th straight weekend that Israelis have come out to demonstrate against the plan in what has become a weekly ritual for many people here.

Protest organizers are seeking to sustain the mass movement despite scoring a win with Mr. Netanyahu’s concession to delay the legislation. Protesters say they don’t expect Mr. Netanyahu to ultimately strike a deal with the opposition that would address their concerns. They also note that Mr. Netanyahu hasn’t stopped the legislation; only delayed it until after the Israeli Parliament, or Knesset, comes back from recess in May, and could choose to pass it at any time.

“The majority do not trust that the government is really seeking something which will leave Israel a democracy," said Shikma Bressler, a physicist who is a leader of the protest movement.

Ms. Bressler isn’t sure how many people will turn out Saturday night but thinks ultimately, the protests won’t die down until the legislation is stopped altogether or an agreement comes together that they feel protects Israel’s system of checks and balances. “Maybe some [protesters] will take some days off but people are still alert," she said.

Since Mr. Netanyahu put the legislation on hold, supporters of the reform have also held protests that have drawn thousands. On Thursday night, thousands of protesters demonstrated in Tel Aviv in favor of the overhaul, some of them marching along the main highway and shutting down traffic.

The fight over the judicial overhaul reached a crescendo after Mr. Netanyahu fired the defense minister for publicly saying the overhaul had sparked divisions within the military that was becoming a national security threat. The firing sparked mass, spontaneous protests across the country and a general strike the next day grounded planes, shut banks and government offices.

Scores of Israeli reservists, from elite pilots to intelligence officers, also said they would refuse to serve if the legislation passed, breaking a taboo in a country that reveres military service as a sacred national duty.

Mr. Netanyahu on Monday said he would delay a vote on a bill that would have been the first part of a larger effort to remake the country’s judicial system. On Tuesday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog hosted representatives from the coalition and the opposition to begin negotiating a compromise, which helped calm tensions.

Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition has proposed legislation that would give the ruling coalition more power on the committee that appoints judges, limit judicial review and allow a simple majority of lawmakers to override Supreme Court decisions.

Mr. Netanyahu and his coalition allies argue that Israel’s top court is controlled by liberal, activist judges who too easily overrule the will of elected officials by striking down laws they deem unconstitutional, a power they argue judges have taken for themselves but which was never explicitly handed to them.

Opponents of the plan say it would undermine Israel’s already limited system of checks and balances and weaken protections for minorities by handing near-unchecked power to the ruling coalition.

Yuval Noah Harari, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who has spoken from the podium at the protests, said he knows many people are tired and need a break and many, including himself, want to give the negotiations time to work. But he said protesters believe that the threat to the Supreme Court is still there.

“Without question, the protest movement is not going anywhere," he said. “It’s very aware of the dangers that we are facing."

Write to Shayndi Raice at Shayndi.Raice@wsj.com

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