Israelis protest against overhaul plans ahead of key court decision

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Israelis protested in cities across the country on Saturday ahead of a key decision by the Supreme Court over legislation passed by the coalition which stripped the court of some of its oversight powers.

Earlier this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right coalition presented plans to strip the court of much of its powers with a package of legislation but, due to overwhelming public pressure, passed only one part of the plan.

Proponents say the judicial overhaul plans would restore balance to the branches of authority but critics say it removes vital checks on government powers.

The latest legislation, an amendment to one of Israel's basic laws, removes the court's power to strike down government decision's or appointments on the basis of being "unreasonable."

"I am demonstrating for Israel democracy," protester Nattie Schwartz-Kershberg said in Tel Aviv. "I want to make sure that Israel will stay democracy and not a dictatorship."

The overhaul plans have sparked weekly nationwide protests but the latest demonstrations held special significance as they came before the Supreme Court, for the first time in Israeli history, convenes its entire 15-judge bench on Sept. 12 to hear an appeal against the amendment.

(Reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by Daniel Wallis)