Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that work on controversial changes to the judiciary would be postponed in order to “reach a broader consensus”. The bill is due to return to the Knesset after the Christmas break. Crowds of opponents of the reform continue to protest in the streets of Israeli cities. Israeli Army Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi wrote in an open letter to all active servicemen and reservists, writing that Israel “has never known such days of external threat combined with internal storm.”
In his Monday speech, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu he assessed that his country is facing a crisis that poses a real threat to national unity. “We are at a dangerous crossroads,” he said. He added that “the crisis obliges everyone to act responsibly.”
“One thing I cannot accept is that there is an extremist minority that is ready to tear our country apart, leading us to a civil war and calling for us to avoid military service, which is a terrible crime,” he said.
He announced the postponement of work on controversial changes in the judiciary in order to “achieve a broader consensus”. The bill is due to return to the Knesset after the Christmas break. Netanyahu noted that he had repeatedly called for dialogue on the judicial reform plan.
Work on the law has been postponed
Earlier, the Minister of National Security and chairman of the Jewish Force Itamar Ben-Gwir reportedly told Netanyahu that if the reform of the judiciary was stopped, he would resign from his position in the government. In the afternoon, however, his party said it would agree to a halt to work, provided that it resumed after the Easter break.
Netanyahu discussed the reform with ministers from his cabinet until late at night, the Jerusalem Post reported. The crisis meeting with the head of government was attended by, among others, Mr. ministers of justice, finance, education and Israel’s minister of strategic affairs.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the country’s strategic affairs minister, Ron Dermer, and education minister, Yoav Kish, tried to convince Netanyahu to halt judicial reform.
The head of the justice ministry and member of Likud, Netanyahu’s party, Yariv Levin, threatening to resign, initially insisted on its implementation amid violent protests in the country. On Monday afternoon, however, he said he would respect any decision Netanyahu made, emphasizing that disunity in the government could lead to his downfall.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog called for the reform to be postponed. “For the sake of the unity of the Israeli people, for a sense of responsibility, I urge you to stop immediately legislative process“, he wrote on Twitter.
The anticipation for Netanyahu’s speech lasted from Monday morning.
Israel’s Channel 12 reported that some of Netanyahu’s entourage advised him to wait and see if the 6 p.m. rally in defense of reform in Jerusalem would have a significant turnout. Several Likud members posted banners on Twitter that read “State of emergency… They won’t steal our elections” to encourage supporters to take part in a demonstration in support of the reform.
“During parliamentary talks, tens of thousands of demonstrators returned to the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Many of them held the white and blue flags of Israel, which became a symbol of the protests,” described Reuters. The agency noted that people who are supporters of the reform, including supporter groups, are also mobilizing in the capital. The city’s police presence has been strengthened amid concerns over social media violence against left-wing groups.
In a tweet published, Netanyahu called on both right-wing and left-wing groups to behave responsibly and stop violence.
The Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Herzi Halevi, called on all active soldiers and reservists to continue their duties and act responsibly in the face of social divisions. – This time is unlike any we have known so far. We have not yet experienced similar days in which external threats accumulated in such a way in the face of an approaching storm – he said.
“Our enemies need to know that we are on guard and no one is deserting,” the chief of staff said. “I am responsible that any mission entrusted to you will be aimed at defending the security of Israel and its citizens, and will be in line with IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) values,” he said.
Takeoffs from the country’s largest airport suspended
Israel’s main trade union announced a nationwide strike on Monday. “Restore common sense to the country,” Arnon Bar-David, president of the Histadrut trade union, which represents 800,000 workers, appealed to Netanyahu.
Israel’s two main seaports, Haifa and Ashdod, joined the protest. Local television I24NEWS reported that the local McDonald’s also announced the closure of all restaurants.
As part of the strike, departures from Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s largest airport, were suspended for several hours.
The minister warned against introducing changes, he was dismissed
For opponents of the controversial changes in the judiciary, the last straw was Netanyahu’s decision to dismiss Defense Minister Joaw Galant on Sunday. The Minister recently made a statement in which called on the prime minister to stop the work over reform. “The division in the nation has penetrated deep into the armed forces and those high in the structures of the defense forces – this is a clear and serious threat to Israel’s security. I will not allow it,” said the defense minister, quoted on Saturday by the Jerusalem Post. He also called for a compromise and asked the opposition to stop strikes by reservists of the armed forces and protests against the government.
Netanyahu said he lost confidence in the minister after these statements.
Opposition leader on Monday Yair Lapid he called on the rulers to start a “national dialogue”. – I call on Netanyahu – revoke Joaw Galant’s resignation. The state of Israel cannot afford to change its defense minister in the face of threats on all fronts, Lapid said in a speech to the nation, reported by Israeli television I24NEWS.
“I call on the coalition, let’s go to the president, let’s start a national dialogue that will lead to a constitution based on the Declaration of Independence and a country where we all live together with love and mutual respect,” he added.
The Israeli government wants changes in the judiciary
The Israeli government wants to introduce changes to the judiciary, which include increasing government control over the process of selecting Supreme Court judges, as well as the possibility of overruling the judgments of this court by a majority of 61 votes in the 120-seat parliament.
These plans mean that the country is facing the largest wave of protests in years. As a result of a deep rift in Israeli society, tens of thousands of demonstrators are taking to the streets of cities, arguing that the changes introduced by the government are not democratic. Also, an increasing number of Israeli reservists declare that they will not serve in the army if the announced changes in the judiciary are implemented.
Main photo source: RONEN ZVULUN / Reuters / Forum