Amid widespread protests in Israel over judicial reforms in the country, the White House on Monday said that it was “unfortunate” that the Israeli Parliament passed a bill limiting the powers of the Supreme Court.

The judicial reforms were first announced in January by the country’s Justice Minister Yariv Levin. It has since unleashed a wave of protests that has garnered unprecedented support from hundreds of defence officials as well. The country’s Opposition has alleged that the move could undermine Israel’s democracy.

What happened on Monday?

The Israeli Parliament known as the Knesset passed the “reasonableness” bill, which removed the Supreme Court’s power to cancel government decisions it deems unreasonable. To put things in perspective, similar powers are vested with Indian courts which allow them to review the legality or the reasonability of laws.

Every member of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition voted in favour of the bill on Monday, while the Opposition legislators walked out of Knesset in protest. Levin has described Monday’s vote as the “first step” towards the larger judicial reforms.

What do the judicial reforms propose?

The judicial reforms are seen as the brainchild of Netanyahu’s Likud party colleague Levin, and the Religious Zionist party lawmaker Simcha Rothman, who chairs the Knesset’s law and justice committee. The reforms were announced in January, soon after the new government was sworn in.

One of the other bills in the pipeline proposes to empower the government overarching powers to appoint judges. Currently, judicial appointments in Israel are made by a nine-member panel, which includes politicians as well as judges. The bill will pave way for a change in composition of the panel that will give an automatic majority to the government.

The government also plans to pass another bill allowing it a simple majority of 61 in the 120-seat Knesset to override almost any Supreme Court rulings, reported The Guardian.

Why were these reforms proposed?

The driving force of these reforms can be seen as the ongoing corruption trial against Netanyahu, and past grudges over Supreme Court rulings. Although he is barred from participating in the judicial reforms because of the trial, Netanyahu has said that such changes aim to balance and diversify the judiciary, reported Reuters.

According to The Guardian, Levin and Rothman see the country’s Supreme Court as too powerful and as biased against the Israeli settler movement in Palestine, ultra-religious communities of Israel and the Mizrahi, Jewish people of Middle Eastern origin.

The right-wing political groups have also held a grudge against the top court for its rulings on Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. It is a key region populated by Palestinians but surrounded by Israel. Before 2005, Israel used to have a military presence in Gaza Strip.

By weakening the Supreme Court, Israel’s government want may establish more settlements on land sought by Palestinians for a state.

The protests

On Monday, the police arrested 22 persons for protesting against the reforms, reported the BBC. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv water cannon were used to disperse protestors blocking the highways.

On Saturday, more than 100 of Israel’s former security chiefs signed a letter urging Netanyahu to halt the legislation, and thousands of additional military reservists said they would no longer report for duty, in a protest against the plan, reported NPR. In March, about 200 elite reservist air force pilots had said that they will suspend their services to protest against the new laws.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden said that he was highly concerned about the legislation and its potential implications, reported Axios. The US is one of the key allies of Israel.

“It looks like the current judicial reform proposal is becoming more divisive, not less,” Biden said. “Given the range of threats and challenges confronting Israel right now, it doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush this – the focus should be on pulling people together and finding consensus.”

Meanwhile, Opposition leader Yair Lapid along with a political watchdog group plan to move the Supreme Court to annul the new law.