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JUDICIAL REFORM STANDOFF

Ben-Gvir threatens to bolt coalition if judicial reforms paused

The threat was delivered during a meeting during which Ben-Gvir could be heard screaming at the prime minister.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir at the entrance to Ben-Gurion Airport, March 9, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir at the entrance to Ben-Gurion Airport, March 9, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

Israeli National Security Minister and Otzma Yehudit Party chief Itamar Ben-Gvir threatened to leave the ruling coalition on Monday if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu freezes its judicial reform program.

The threat was delivered during a stormy meeting at the Knesset, during which Ben-Gvir could be heard screaming at the prime minister.

Otzma Yehudit has six seats in the 120-member Knesset, and without them, Netanyahu’s 64-seat coalition would lose its majority and almost certainly collapse.

Netanyahu was scheduled to address the country at 10 a.m. but delayed the speech.

The Religious Zionism Party, which has seven Knesset members, issued a statement on Monday rejecting any pause in the reform initiative, describing such a move as a “surrender” to the “violent” demonstrations taking place across the country.

“We were and still are open to dialogue, compromise and agreement, but not under the threat of a coup by the centers of power against Israeli democracy,” said the statement.

RZP leader and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Monday afternoon reiterated that the government must press forward with the reforms, adding that he would attend a rally in Jerusalem in the evening.

“We must not stop the reforms aimed at fixing the justice system and Israeli democracy. We must not surrender to violence, anarchy, refusals to serve [in the military] and [general] strikes,” said Smotrich. “We are the majority, let our voices be heard. We won’t let our vote and the state be stolen.”

Earlier Monday, Economy Minister Nir Barkat of the Likud Party called on coalition members to back Netanyahu.

“We must not bring about the overthrow of the right-wing government at our own hands. Our strength is in our unity,” he said.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin said on Monday that he would respect Netanyahu’s decision but warned that delaying the legislative process could “immediately lead to the fall of the government and the collapse of Likud.

“We must all make an effort to stabilize the coalition,” he said.

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