Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition on Thursday passed the first of several laws that make up its contentious judicial overhaul.
Netanyahu’s coalition approved legislation that would protect the Israeli leader from being deemed unfit to rule because of his corruption trial.
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 because of health or mental reasons and only the Knesset or the government can make that decision.
Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving wealthy associates and powerful media moguls.
He denies wrongdoing and dismisses critics who say he could find an escape route from the charges through the legal overhaul his government is advancing.
On the same day, protesters opposed to the changes staged another day of demonstrations aimed at ringing an alarm over what they see as the country’s descent toward autocracy.
They blocked traffic on main highways and scuffled with police in unrest that shows no sign of abating. Police used water cannons to disperse crowds, and dozens of people — including leaders of the protest movement — were arrested.
A nation divided
Critics of the government’s plan say Netanyahu has plunged the nearly 75-year-old nation into one of its worst domestic crises.
The prime minister has vowed to “mend the rift” in the deeply divided nation but he offered no details on how he intends to do so and gave no indication that he would slow down the plan.
“I believe that it’s possible to pass a reform which brings response for both sides,” said Netanyahu. “A reform which restores the proper balance between branches, and on the other side will keep, and I’d say beyond this, not only save but will shrine the individual rights of every citizen in the country. “
The legal changes have split the nation between those who see them as stripping Israel of its democratic ideals and those who think Israel has been overrun by a liberal judiciary.
Protesters have also been showing up in tens of thousands across the country each Saturday for more than two months.
Despite the opposition, Netanyahu’s government has pledged to carry on with its pledge to overhaul the judiciary.