IIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears ready to suspend an important part of his government’s judicial reform. Israeli media reported that the head of government would give a speech on Monday morning in which he announced this.
The pressure on Netanyahu had previously increased. The head of the trade union center Histadrut, Arnon Bar-David, announced a general strike in a press conference on Monday morning to “stop the legal revolution”. Immediately afterwards, the boss of the airport union announced that as part of the strike there would be no more departures from Ben Gurion Airport with immediate effect. The doctors’ union announced that it would go on strike on Tuesday.
National Security Minister and leader of the far-right Jewish Strength party Itamar Ben-Gvir urged Netanyahu not to suspend the controversial reform. He wrote on Twitter Monday morning: “The reform of the justice system must not be stopped and we must not capitulate to anarchy.”
The domestic political situation had worsened since the dismissal of Defense Minister Joav Galant on Sunday evening. Galant, who belongs to Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, was the first cabinet member to openly oppose the coalition’s plans on Saturday. He warned that the country’s security was at stake as more and more army reservists wanted to refuse their service in protest at judicial reform. On Sunday evening, the government press office announced Galant’s dismissal. As a result, tens of thousands of people took to the streets again, especially in Tel Aviv.
Around 200,000 people had already protested there against the government’s plans on Saturday. On Sunday evening, too, demonstrators with Israeli flags blocked central traffic axes and set tires on fire. The police used cavalry squadrons and water cannons against the crowd, from which stones were thrown at the emergency services. In Jerusalem, angry people broke through a roadblock next to Netanyahu’s apartment building, and the head of the domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, went there that night.
That night Netanyahu then called the leaders of his ultra-right coalition together for consultations. The left-liberal time newspaper reported that Netanyahu and the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Arye Deri, had spoken out in favor of suspending the reform. Two other ultra-Orthodox parties are said to have been open to pausing the plans. Justice Minister Yariv Levin, on the other hand, has threatened to resign if the new regulations are not implemented as planned, time reported.
Judiciary Committee pushes reform ahead
Nevertheless, the Judiciary Committee of the Israeli Knesset pushed ahead with the legislative process for a core part of the reform on Monday morning. This involves a change in the composition of the judge selection committee, which, among other things, also determines the judges for the Supreme Court. As a result of the change, the respective governing coalition could decide on the filling of the posts with its own majority. According to critics, this would lead to the government bringing the judiciary under its control and the separation of powers being abolished. Israel’s rights in particular, but also renowned constitutional law experts, have long accused the Supreme Court of repeatedly interfering in purely political issues. In the morning, the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the text of the law, which according to plans was to be passed in the last reading on Monday, amid loud protests from the opposition.
Other parts of the reform include restrictions on the repeal of laws by the Supreme Court and are designed to allow the Knesset to reinstate laws that the Supreme Court has repealed. In addition, procedures for the enactment of “fundamental laws” are determined, which provide a kind of constitution in Israel. Another reason for the judicial reform is that many fundamental questions – such as the majorities required to pass basic laws – have never been regulated by law in Israel.
Several mayors on hunger strike
The plans also sparked considerable criticism internationally. Even the US government, Israel’s most important ally, was “deeply concerned” in a statement: In view of the planned “fundamental changes to a democratic system”, the White House called on the Israeli leadership “strongly to find a compromise as soon as possible”.
Israeli universities announced on Sunday evening a temporary teaching freeze in protest against Galant’s dismissal and the reform plans. Several mayors went on hunger strike, demanding an immediate containment of the national crisis.
Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel was in the greatest danger since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Arab states had surprisingly attacked Israel on the holiest Jewish holiday. Bennett called on Netanyahu to reverse Galant’s sacking, suspend reform and engage in dialogue with opponents. He warned the demonstrators not to use violence and to prevent bloodshed. “We are brothers,” wrote Bennett.