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Israelis rally near top court on eve of legal reform hearing

People protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem against the Israeli government's judicial overhaul plan (RONALDO SCHEMIDT)
People protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem against the Israeli government's judicial overhaul plan (RONALDO SCHEMIDT)

Thousands of Israelis demonstrated Monday in Jerusalem to denounce the hard-right government's judicial overhaul ahead of a Supreme Court hearing on a key component of the reform package, AFP correspondents said.

"Democracy! Democracy!" chanted the protesters in front of the Supreme Court, waving Israeli flags.

Michael Telias, a 42-year-old professor, said: "We are here to try and stop this corrupted government's attempts to transform Israel, a liberal democracy, into a fascist regime."

A full 15-judge panel of the country's top court is due to hear petitions on Tuesday against the first major part of the government's divisive reforms to have become law.

The parliament in July voted to limit the so-called "reasonableness clause" used by the Supreme Court to review and sometimes overturn government decisions.

"We hope the Supreme Court will reject this proposal, which has no aim but to restrict its power," said Telias.

Other proposals advanced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government include giving politicians more power over the appointment of judges.

Netanyahu's administration, a coalition between his Likud party and extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies, argues that the legal changes are needed to rebalance powers between politicians and the judiciary.

Since the government unveiled the plans in January, opponents have rallied weekly in Tel Aviv and other cities across Israel, warning of a slide to authoritarianism.

"I am here because I want to live in a democratic country, I want my children and my grandchildren to be able to live the lives we had dreamt of for them," said pensioner Miriam Galon, who came to the Jerusalem protest from her home in the northern town of Givat Ela.

The rally was attended by many teenagers too, according to the AFP correspondents.

Lior, 17, a high school student from Tel Aviv who gave only her first name, said "young people must come out to the streets".

"It's time to wake up, it's up to us to defend our country and our rights," she told AFP.

- 'False' compromise -

Israeli media have reported some moves toward a compromise between the government and the opposition, while Netanyahu said Monday he aimed to "reach a national consensus to restore the balance of power" between authorities.

"If such an agreement is reached, no one will stop its implementation," added the premier, in a thinly veiled warning to some members of his coalition.

Earlier, firebrand National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, of the far-right Jewish Power party, said he opposed any "surrender".

"I am for dialogue but against surrender," he said in a video message released by his office. "This reform is important for the State of Israel."

Critics allege that Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges he denies, of trying to use the proposed legal overhaul to quash possible judgments against him.

He rejects the accusation.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Sunday said talks of a compromise were not sincere.

He warned against "a compromise proposal that is too good to be true, which really means it's false".