Israel passes law protecting Netanyahu as protests continue

The opposition is rooted in broad swaths of society — including business leaders and top legal officials. Even the country’s military, seen as a beacon of stability by Israel’s Jewish majority, is enmeshed in the political conflict, as some reservists are refusing to show up for duty over the changes. Israel’s international allies have also expressed concern.

The law to protect Netanyahu passed 61-47 in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.

It stipulates that a prime minister can only be deemed unfit to rule for health or mental reasons and that only he or his government can make that decision. It comes after the country’s attorney general has faced growing calls by Netanyahu opponents to declare him unfit to rule over his legal problems. The attorney general has already barred Netanyahu from involvement in the legal overhaul, saying he is at risk of a conflict of interest because of his corruption trial.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, a good governance organization, said it was challenging the law in court, in what could set up the first showdown between judges and the government over the legal changes. Experts say the overhaul could set off a constitutional crisis that would leave Israel in chaos over who should be obeyed, the government or the courts.

On Thursday, protesters launched a fourth midweek day of demonstrations. They blocked major thoroughfares, set tires ablaze near an important seaport and draped a large Israeli flag and a banner with the country’s Declaration of Independence over the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. Police said they made several arrests around the country. Shikma Bressler, one of the protest leaders, was among those arrested, organizers said.

Protesters blocked the main highway in seaside Tel Aviv and police used water cannon to disperse demonstrators in that city and Haifa in the north.

Netanyahu called on opposition leaders to “stop the anarchy immediately,” after what he said was an attack on Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet domestic security agency. Video on social media showed a protester swiping her flagpole in Dichter’s direction, hitting him once on the head, but he appeared unharmed and continued walking.

A protest was planned later in the day in a large ultra-Orthodox city near Tel Aviv. The demonstration’s organizers say the demonstration there is meant to drive home to that community that their rights are in danger under the overhaul. Ultra-Orthodox leaders see the demonstration in their midst as provocative.

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