Hassan, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch is seen during an interview in Geneva
Tirana Hassan, newly appointed Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) is seen during an interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland March 30, 2023. Reuters

Israel is "on a rampage" against human rights, the new head of Human Rights Watch told Reuters on Thursday, urging allies like the United States to do more to both hold it accountable for alleged abuses and persuade it to change course.

A planned overhaul of the judiciary by Israel's religious-nationalist government would be "a disaster" for human rights, HRW Executive Director Tirana Hassan said, calling on Washington to follow through after it issued a rare reproach over the move.

"With the current state of the Israeli government and the attacks on the judiciary in particular, we see that this is not a human rights-complaint government," Hassan said.

"This is a government that's actually on a rampage against human rights domestically against its own people in Israel..."

Israel's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The government's plan to enable parliament to override Supreme Court decisions and control judicial appointments has triggered some of the biggest street protests in Israeli history, with critics calling the move a threat to democracy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters say the plans would ensure a proper balance between the elected government and the judiciary and not endanger individual and minority rights.

Earlier this week Netanyahu paused legislative steps to implement the plan and has begun talks with the political opposition on a compromise.

Hassan said she hoped U.S. President Joe Biden's administration would "leverage their relationship and their power to ensure that Israel sort of steps back from the brink which is where they are now when it comes to human rights.

"We expect the U.S. ... to be holding Israel to account for abuses with the same rigor that they are prepared to hold China to account for their abuses," she added.

Human Rights Watch labelled Israel's treatment of Palestinians and the decades-long Israeli military occupation of the West Bank as "apartheid" in a 2021 report.

Some pro-Israel groups, including prominent Jewish organisations in the United States, have said HRW and other rights groups have shown bias against Israel in their reporting.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported a record 152 killings of Palestinians by Israeli security forces last year in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and said Jewish settler violence against Palestinians had also intensified.

The increased Israeli army operations followed an upsurge in Palestinian attacks in which at least 45 people have been killed, according to Israeli foreign ministry figures.