In an unusual move, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Saturday sent a message of support to demonstrators protesting against the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul plan, which was screened at the weekly mass demonstration in Tel Aviv.
Sanchez, who is also the president of the Socialist International organization, told the demonstrators that the group “stands in solidarity with the people of Israel” and could be counted on “in the fight for democracy.”
In response, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen stated that the government will remain steadfast in the face of international pressure to withdraw its overhaul legislation, tweeting that anti-overhaul demonstrators had no “red lines, including the attempt to harm our international standing.”
“No foreign official will decide for the Israeli public, and I am sure that Sanchez did not mean this. As someone who supports the reform I have no doubt that it will strengthen democracy and balance the branches of government,” Cohen wrote.
The video from the Spanish premier was screened as some 200,000 people were estimated to have attended Saturday night’s rally in Tel Aviv for the 17th consecutive week, with tens of thousands more spread across other demonstrations across the country.
Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, who chairs the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and has spearheaded the overhaul legislation alongside Justice Minister Yariv Levin, called out Sanchez over his own judicial proposals, which were struck down by Spain’s Constitutional Court in December.
השבת ה-17 להפגנות | ראש ממשלת ספרד פדרו סנצ'ס בסרטון שהוקרן בפתח המחאה בתל אביב: "תמיד תמצאו אותנו במאבק על הדמוקרטיה". עם תחילת ההפגנה, הודיעו המארגנים על החרפת המחאה ביום חמישי הקרוב | עדכונים שוטפים >> https://t.co/ZjS4Ujgvnp@hadasgrinberg @daniel_elazar @YoavYoavkrak pic.twitter.com/YsjX5Kf1Eo
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“It was only a few months ago that he tried to decrease the majority of parliament members needed to appoint judges from three-fifths to a simple majority, and was blocked by Spain’s Constitutional Court,” Rothman tweeted Saturday.
He suggested that protesters “try not to insult him by saying that the political appointment of judges is the end of democracy.” A key piece of legislation sought by the coalition would assert almost total governmental control over judge appointments.
Critics have said these plans will politicize the Supreme Court, as well as remove key checks on governmental power, and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.
Israel’s attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, has warned that the coalition’s current package of legislation would hand the government virtually unrestrained power, without providing any institutional protections for individual rights.
Proponents of the overhaul held a large rally on Thursday, estimated to have been attended by about 200,000 people, a crowd that tilted noticeably toward younger religious Israelis, with a significant percentage below the voting age, and many of the buses bringing supporters from West Bank settlements.
It was the largest protest yet aimed at providing the coalition with public support for its plans.
Facing massive pushback, Netanyahu agreed last month to temporarily pause the overhaul to allow time for negotiations with opponents of the legislation over the Passover recess.
During the recess, coalition and opposition representatives have been meeting under the aegis of President Isaac Herzog to discuss the possibility of a negotiated compromise on to judicial power lines.
No tangible progress has been reported to date.
The Knesset is scheduled to return from its month-long recess on Sunday. A key overhaul bill that would put judicial appointments under political control has passed nearly all legislative stages and is ready to be passed within days if the coalition so desires.
Analysts and commentators believe the coalition will not advance any of the legislation until the passage of the state budget, which the ruling coalition must do by May 29 or face automatic elections.