Defence minister urges pause to reforms as Israelis protest again
Thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday against controversial judicial reform, as Defense Minister Yoav Galant broke ranks to call for a pause on the government’s reforms.
The latest demonstration to hit Israel’s commercial center came days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to press ahead with the changes despite growing international alarm.
But his defense minister said on Saturday that we must “stop the legislative process” for a month given the divisive nature of the reforms.
“The growing social cleavage has made its way into the (army) and security agencies. It is a clear, immediate and tangible threat to Israel’s security,” said Galant, who is a member of Netanyahu’s own right-wing Likud party.
“I am committed to putting the values of Likud… and the State of Israel above all else… but major changes must be made at the national level through discussion and dialogue,” he said.
His comments were welcomed by opposition leader Yair Lapid, who said it was a “brave and vital step for Israel’s security”.
Galant called for it to be stopped before lawmakers are allowed to vote next week on a key part of the government’s proposals, which would change the way judges are appointed.
Two other Likud lawmakers expressed their support for Galant, raising questions about whether the government could count on a majority if it pushes ahead with a vote.
The Tel Aviv protest on Saturday swelled to around 200,000 demonstrators, according to Israeli media estimates.
“We are here today to show our voice and add to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Israelis who support the values this country was founded on,” said tech worker Daniel Nisman, citing the democracy and tolerance.
“This is all we can hope for, that he (Netanyahu) will bring us back from the edge of the abyss,” the 36-year-old told AFP.
Demonstrations flared in January after the coalition announced its reform package, which the government says is necessary to rebalance powers between lawmakers and the judiciary.
– ‘Very upset’ –
But the protester Daphne Oren-Magidor, 41, said the overhaul risks Israel “turning into a dictatorship”.
“The laws that are currently being passed are laws aimed at making the government essentially the sole ruler and destroying the separation of powers,” said the historian rallying in Jerusalem.
Thousands of demonstrators marched past the Jerusalem residence of President Isaac Herzog, who has been the main voice of dialogue in the dispute.
Plans to give more control to politicians and reduce the role of the Supreme Court have been questioned by Israel’s main allies including the United States.
US President Joe Biden expressed “our concerns about these proposals, these proposed judicial reforms”, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday.
Netanyahu was also greeted by hundreds of protesters in London, where he met his British counterpart Rishi Sunak on Friday.
During the talks, the British prime minister “stressed the importance of upholding the democratic values that underpin our relationship, including in the proposed judicial reforms”, a spokesman said.
– ‘End the split’ –
Netanyahu said on Thursday that the legislation due in the parliament chamber next week “does not take control of the court but balances and diversifies it”.
The draft law has been amended by a parliamentary committee with the aim of making it more palatable to opponents, but the opposition has not ruled out supporting any part of the reform package until all legislative steps have been halted.
In response, demonstrators announced a “national week of paralysis”, including rallies across the country, protests outside ministers’ houses and on Wednesday outside parliament.
In his televised address on Thursday, Netanyahu said he would do everything “to ease the situation and end the split in the nation”.
However, the chief executive said that his administration was still “determined to correct and responsibly promote the democratic reform that will restore the right balance between the authorities”.
Netanyahu came under fire a day later from Israel’s attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, who said his public intervention was “illegal” because of his ongoing corruption trial.
The top law officer cited a previous court ruling that an indicted prime minister has no right to act on a matter that could cause him a conflict of interest.