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What protestors are saying of the new law reducing Israeli Supreme Court's oversight


It has been a historic and polarizing day in Israel, a day that has seen mass protests against a just-passed law that remakes the balance of power in the country. The law strips Israel's Supreme Court of a key check on the power of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. President Biden had urged Israel not to pass it without a broad public consensus. And today the White House is calling the new law, quote, "unfortunate." Israel's president is calling this a time of emergency. Well, NPR's Daniel Estrin has been out all day speaking with protesters. He joins me now from Jerusalem. Hey there, Daniel.


KELLY: Wow. Daniel, I can hear you are right in the middle of it. Tell me where you are, what you see.

ESTRIN: Yeah, I'm on a bridge overlooking a pretty amazing standoff. I'm seeing two Israeli police trucks, water cannons. One of them has just now approached protesters, thousands of them in the streets, blocking a main road with Israeli flags. And now we're seeing this police water truck charging toward the protesters. It's spraying one, two, three volleys of water. This is an incredible sight. It's happening right in front of the Supreme Court. This is where protesters have been gathered all day, and now they're being dispersed with water cannons.

KELLY: Wow, OK. And so why is this so controversial? We said this will reduce the court's oversight over the government. Just spell out for me how so.

ESTRIN: You know, this is really the first major move that the government is making in a much broader effort to weaken the court's oversight. This law will block the Supreme Court from being able to intervene in the hiring and firing of public officials and also intervene in their decision-making. So the Supreme Court can no longer tell the government such and such, you know, decision or appointment of a senior official is unreasonable and doesn't serve the public interest. This has animated so many protesters because it is the Supreme Court that is the main protector of so many individual freedoms in Israel's system of government. The court protects women's rights, equality, LGBTQ rights. So take a listen to one Israeli protester I met, Maya Or.

MAYA OR: Israel is in a very, very bad place today, very, very sad place today. And I hope the government will think that being a democracy meaning not only the power of the majority but taking into consideration the minorities and their rights.

ESTRIN: And so now there will be a petition against this law. And the question is, will the Supreme Court actually take this up?

KELLY: We heard her say just there, Israel is in a very, very bad place. How is Netanyahu defending this move?

ESTRIN: He says this law is the essence of democracy. It will allow the elected government, he says, to carry out its agenda. And he says he is still in favor of dialogue with the opposition. He's willing to hold a dialogue with them for even the next four months on any future judicial changes.

KELLY: And the protests are expected to continue, or what happens now?

ESTRIN: Certainly we will see protesters continue to block the roads in the coming week. There are concerns about military reservists refusing to show up for duty, and that has leaders worried about rising tensions on Israel's border with its enemies. And legal experts are worried. What could the government possibly do now that this new law unshackles it from some oversights - some oversight powers of the Supreme Court?

KELLY: NPR's Daniel Estrin in the thick of it today in Jerusalem. Thank you, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.