Amid mass protests, calls grow from inside coalition to reconsider judicial overhaul


As massive protesters broke out across Israel on Sunday night, calls grew from within the coalition government to consider halting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s relentless legislative effort to side with the judiciary.

In a move that sent shock waves through the country, Netanyahu fired his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, on Sunday night, a day after he called in a televised address to stop the government’s push to reform the judiciary and work toward a compromise. The news prompted hundreds of thousands of protesters to pour into the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, and elsewhere late Sunday, with demonstrators vowing to stay on the roads into the night.

In Tel Aviv, protesters lit bonfires on the Ayalon Highway and blocked the main entrance in both directions while chanting for “democracy.”

As the protests grew, some Likud MKs and coalition partners called for consideration of easing legislative pressure while others urged Netanyahu to double down and move quickly on legislation that would bring judicial appointments, with including to the presidency of the Supreme Court, under political control.

MK Miki Zohar, the Likud’s minister of culture and sports, claimed that the current situation could not be maintained and said “if Netanyahu decides to stop the legislation, he should be supported… That is the need of the hour.” Although the legislation should now be put on hold “to allow things to calm down,” Zohar said, nevertheless, “we must complete this reform – with intelligence… and with a better explanation. “

Half the country chose the coalition to carry out the reform, Zohar said, but not now – “not with the streets on fire. You don’t loose the house on its inhabitants.”

Israelis block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial reform on March 26, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Zohad said he was in favor of talks with the opposition on the reform, but “if we cannot reach agreements we must complete the reform we were elected to do.”

Economy Minister Nir Barkat, also Likud, issued a statement that seemed to assume that Netanyahu will stop the judicial reform legislation and offered support.

“The State of Israel has priority over everything,” Barkat said. “The people of Israel have priority over everything. I will support the Prime Minister’s decision to stop and chart a new course.”

“The reform is necessary and we will do it – but not at the price of civil war,” said Barkat.

Netanyahu was said to be at the Prime Minister’s Office early Monday conducting hours of “security and legal discussions” amid reports he was considering a move to pause the reform push.

Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu was considering doing so even as Justice Minister Yariv Levin threatened to resign. The report said most members of the coalition government are in favor of stopping the legislation, given the protests across the country.

Culture and Sports Miki Zohar at the Ministry’s offices in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset Constitution Committee late Sunday finalized key legislation that will give the coalition almost complete control over choosing Israel’s judges. The chairman of the committee, Simcha Rothman, announced that the discussion in the committee will begin again at 8:00 am on Monday and that the bill will be presented for its final reading in the Knesset Hall on Monday night.

Meanwhile, a separate Knesset committee finalized legislation, ahead of its final Knesset readings, that would have prevented the High Court from blocking ministerial appointments, allowing Shas leader Aryeh Deri to return to parliament ministry.

Coalition party members are to meet at 9:00 am on Monday at the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss developments.

On Sunday night, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party reached out to United Torah Judaism in a statement offering to continue to “support the prime minister and his decisions,” a statement seen as a nod to Netanyahu to take the path forward. version of the judicial reform with their support.

In a separate statement, the far-right party Otzma Yehudit said it was fully behind Netanyahu and Levin, and urged them to ignore calls to halt the judicial reform campaign. “The right has no mandate to turn the judicial reform and initiate violence,” the statement said.

The leader of the Otzma Yehudit party, Itamar Ben Gvir lobbied loudly for Netanyahu to oppose Gallant, sparking unprecedented protests on Sunday night.

Joining other coalition members urging the government to stop its push for judicial reform, Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli (Likud) called for a rethink on how the legislative package is sold to the public.

“You have to admit, honestly, that we lost direction,” he said in a lengthy statement.

MK Amichai Chikli at a Knesset House Committee meeting on a request from Yamina’s party to declare him ‘defective’ on April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Chikli suggested that the government consider a proposal from the opposition figure Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity Party, “which seems to come from a place of purity and good intentions, outline a new roadmap to restart the legislative process, put it in the presence of the community. public and lay out the rules of the game ahead of time,” he said.

In the meantime, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, chief rabbi in the religious nationalist movement and spiritual mentor for the far-right party of the Old Religion, led by the Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich, signed a letter together with other members of the community urging a ceasefire in the country fight over the judicial shakeup.

Noting the damage already done to the nation by the dramatic overhaul, the rabbis called on the government to hold off on legislative action on the overhaul until after Independence Day next month, urging the to curtail opposition protests until then as well.

Ayelet Shaked, a former justice minister and senior right-wing figure who supported judicial reforms, called on Netanyahu to stop the legislative push.

“Even justified reform only serves to dismantle Israel’s society, security and economy. The main responsibility is to prevent the destruction of the house. Stop now!” tweeted Shaked, formerly of the now-defunct Yamina faction.

Earlier in the night, Likud MK Yuli Edelstein – a Likud stalwart who has shown rare, if halting, opposition to Netanyahu – called for a halt to the legislative process to confront the judiciary and put pointed out that his recent absence from key votes was linked to the coalition’s sweep. plan to transfer power from the judges to politicians was no accident.

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein leads a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee at the Knesset, on February 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid had earlier attacked Netanyahu for firing Gallant, calling the move “a new low for an anti-Zionist government that harms national security and ignores the warnings of security figures to all.”

“The Prime Minister of Israel is a danger to the State of Israel,” he said.

Yisrael Beytenu, the leader Avigdor Liberman, who was also a former defense minister, called Netanyahu’s return to Gallant “dictatorship at its best”.

“The defense minister had the desire to express the deep concern of the leaders of all security branches regarding the disbandment of the IDF and the fatal harm to Israel’s security,” Liberman wrote on Twitter.

“Instead of listening to [Gallant] in assembling the cabinet, Netanyahu chose the path of all dictators – to silence voices,” he said.

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