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JUDICIAL REFORM STANDOFF

Netanyahu expected to freeze judicial reforms amid mass civil disobedience

The Israeli prime minister delays a speech to the country as members of his coalition threaten to bring down the government.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 19, 2023. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 19, 2023. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.
  • Israelis protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on March 25, 2023. Photo by Erik Marmor/Flash90.
    Israelis protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on March 25, 2023. Photo by Erik Marmor/Flash90.
  • Israelis block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
    Israelis block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
  • Israelis block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
    Israelis block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
  • Travelers at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where flights were being delayed as workers went on strike to protest against the judicial overhaul proposed by the government, March 27, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
    Travelers at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where flights were being delayed as workers went on strike to protest against the judicial overhaul proposed by the government, March 27, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
  • From left: Israel Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi visit the IAF control center, Jan. 25, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.
    From left: Israel Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi visit the IAF control center, Jan. 25, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected on Monday to freeze his government’s judicial reform program.

He is set to deliver a speech this evening after Israelis took to the streets en masse Sunday night to protest his firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Netanyahu was scheduled to address the country at 10 a.m. but delayed the speech amid reports that several members of his coalition are threatening to bring down the government unless the judicial reform effort continues apace.

The Religious Zionism Party 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.

“After much consideration and consultations, our position is that we must not do anything to stop the passage of the legislation. Stopping the legislation would constitute a surrender to violence and anarchy, to the refusal to serve in the army and to the dictatorship of the minority—and would undermine the results of the [November] election,” said the statement.

“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,” it added.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who leads the Otzma Yehudit Party, reportedly threatened to bolt the coalition unless the reform package is passed.

In response, Economy Minister Nir Barkat of the Likud Party called on coalition parties 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.

Earlier Monday, the Histadrut labor federation declared a general strike.

“It’s time to say so much. There is a limit to how much you can stand back. I tried to avoid a strike and a shutdown, but it is impossible to stay in the face of this discrimination and polarization,” Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar-David said at a press conference.

The head of the workers union at Ben-Gurion Airport thereafter announced an immediate stop to departures at Israel’s main international gateway.

“I ordered the immediate halt of takeoffs at the airport,” Israel Airports Authority workers committee chairman Pinchas Idan said.

Travelers at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where flights were being delayed as workers went on strike to protest against the judicial overhaul proposed by the government, March 27, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

‘The whole people of Israel is looking at you’

Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, the country’s largest hospital, said it would join the general strike, and the Israel Medical Association announced the shutdown of the health system.

In the past few days, more than 600 doctors signed a petition demanding that the Israel Medical Association not get involved in political disputes. “We would like to express our disgust at the attempts to turn the representative organization of doctors in Israel into a political body,” the petition reads.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid spoke to the press on Monday morning, calling on Netanyahu’s coalition to freeze the legislative process and enter into negotiations.

“I call on the government to come to its senses, stop the legislation and speak to us—let’s go to [the President’s Residence] and start a national dialogue that ends up with a constitution based on the [1948] Declaration of Independence and have a country based on agreements and mutual respect,” Lapid said.

A mass demonstration against the judicial reform was planned for outside the Knesset on Monday afternoon. A right-wing rally in support of judicial reform was also announced for Monday evening outside the parliament in Jerusalem. A statement by the organizers reads: “State of emergency, come to Jerusalem! They will not steal our elections, we must not give up the people’s choice!”

Knesset member Simcha Rothman, the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, convened on Monday a meeting for the final committee votes on the bill to change the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee, part of the coalition’s legal reform program. The committee passed the bill, which will now be voted on in the Knesset plenum.

Netanyahu sacked Gallant on Sunday night after the latter called for a halt to the government’s judicial reform initiative in a televised address to the nation.

After the announcement, mass demonstrations took place across the country with protesters in Tel Aviv blocking the Ayalon Highway in both directions before being dispersed by mounted police and water cannons. The road reopened to traffic hours after it was cleared.

Israelis block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, March 26, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

Netanyahu and his political allies held emergency meetings throughout the night.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, in a statement following the protests, called for an immediate halt to the legislative process.

“Last night, we witnessed very difficult scenes. I appeal to the prime minister, members of the government, and members of the coalition: There are harsh and painful feelings. The entire nation is rapt with deep worry. Our security, economy, society—all are under threat,” he said.

The president continued: “The whole people of Israel is looking at you. The whole Jewish people is looking at you. The whole world is looking at you.”

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