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Protests Simmer in Israel as Country’s President Prepares to Address Congress

Small protests cropped up across Israel on Wednesday, illustrating the broad, grass-roots nature of popular opposition to plans by the government to overhaul the country’s judiciary, drawing in key sectors of the economy, the security establishment and society.

Doctors rallied with flags and banners outside major hospitals. Employees of Israel’s vaunted high-tech industry gathered on bridges and at busy junctions. Scores of people set off on a 40-mile trek on foot from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In what has become one of the most enduring themes in the months of protests that have gripped Israel, women dressed in red — a reference to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the dystopian novel-turned-TV-series set in a totalitarian patriarchy — gathered at sites across the country.

The protests appeared timed to coincide with a planned address to the U.S. Congress by President Isaac Herzog later on Wednesday that would come at a fraught period in the relations between Israel and the United States. On Tuesday, President Biden held a meeting with Mr. Herzog, who serves as Israel’s mostly ceremonial president, at the White House.

Several lawmakers critical of Israel said they would boycott Mr. Herzog’s speech to Congress to protest the Israeli government’s policies.

In Israel, many protesters have been critical of Mr. Herzog’s efforts to try to forge a compromise between the Israeli government and representatives of the opposition over the judicial changes and are hoping that Mr. Biden will continue to press Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon the government’s unilateral legislative rush.

In Israel on Tuesday, tens of thousands of protesters thronged railway platforms, blocked roads, including the main artery running through Tel Aviv, and held a mass demonstration outside the Supreme Court and Parliament building in Jerusalem.

The protests were part of a calibrated buildup of opposition to moves by the government to finalize the first bill in the judicial overhaul plan, which many critics, including top legal officials, have described as a blow to the country’s democracy.

The protests are expected to peak this weekend or early next week, when Parliament is likely to hold a final vote on a bill restricting the Supreme Court’s use of the grounds of “reasonableness” and limiting judicial review of government decisions and appointments.

Critics fear the proposed law could undermine democracy by reducing judicial oversight over the cabinet and giving the government greater powers, paving the way for a more conservative and religious society and for the possible appointment of corrupt officials. Mr. Netanyahu’s government says that the change would make elected lawmakers less beholden to the subjective opinions of unelected judges.

The new measures, which are mostly supported by religious and social conservatives, have been opposed by a broad swathe of Israeli society, visible in the protests that have shaken the country in recent months. Some members of the Israeli military reserves have campaigned against the law, and labor unions have threatened general strikes.

On Wednesday, the country’s medical union held a two-hour “warning strike.” Doctors and medical staff gathered outside hospitals holding banners with slogans such as, “Doctors fighting for the life of democracy.”

Employees of Israel’s military industries were scheduled to hold a rally in Tel Aviv in the afternoon, and hundreds of reservists from the military’s medical corps planned to hand in letters to army officials announcing that they would no longer show up for reserve duty in light of what their organizers called “the government’s unilateral gallop” toward legislation that “will turn Israel into a dictatorship.”

Women’s groups and the high-tech employees planned to march to the United States Embassy branch in Tel Aviv in the evening.

Scores of protesters were also marching from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, carrying blue-and-white Israeli flags and chanting “De-mo-cra-tya!” — Hebrew for democracy. The marchers set off on Tuesday night, with long stops along the way to stay out of the midday heat, and planned to arrive in Jerusalem by Saturday.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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