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Israel's Netanyahu backs down, pauses judicial overhaul in face of protests

Faced with tens of thousands of demonstrators across Israel enraged over his decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced that he is suspending the judicial reform plan.
rotesters gather outside Israel's parliament in Jerusalem amid ongoing demonstrations and calls for a general strike against the hard-right government's controversial push to overhaul the justice system, on March 27, 2023. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed away on Monday evening from advancing the judicial overhaul plan that his government has been pushing for the past three months in the face of mounting protests in the country.

Netanyahu agreed with his far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir that the coalition will try to pass the judicial overhaul within a national agreement and after discussions with the opposition over the next three months. If no compromise is found, Netanyahu pledged to Ben-Gvir that they will pass the judicial overhaul anyway in the Knesset during the parliament’s summer session. The plan would strip power of Israel's High Court and the judiciary branch in favor of the politicians. Protests have consumed Israel over the judicial overhaul plan since December, with members of the army reservists joining the movement.

Netanyahu confirmed the news on Monday in a televised address to Israelis, explaining that his decision to delay the plan is to avert a civil strife within Israel.

“When there’s an option to avoid civil war through dialogue, I take a time-out for dialogue,” he said.

“I’m attentive to the calls of many citizens to defuse current tensions,” he added.

But Netanyahu went on to criticize an “extremist minority” within Israel, who he said is hurting the country’s military. “[This minority] is willing to tear apart our country, who operates violently, who ignites fires, threatens to hurt those elected, incites to civil war and calls to refuse showing up for reserve duty. This is a terrible crime. Israel cannot survive without the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the IDF cannot survive when faced with insubordination," Netanyahu said.

The prime minister referred to the letter sent to him earlier this week by Blue and White opposition party leader Benny Gantz, saying he was willing to enter negotiations for reaching a compromise on the judicial overhaul. Still, he emphasized that his end goal is to have the judicial overhaul adopted, in order to reequilibrate the powers of the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.

The protests raged after Netanyahu's decision on Sunday evening to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for speaking out against the reform plan. Gallant warned of IDF officers refusing to show up for reserve duty and argued that the overhaul plan was not only tearing Israeli society apart but also endangering the country's security. Even associates of Netanyahu said the plan must be suspended to avoid an irreparable rift within the nation and endanger Israel’s security. 

As part of the deal that Netanyahu struck with Ben-Gvir, the Israeli prime minister agreed to establish a national guard force, a key demand for the far-right minister. Ben-Gvir, in conflict with police commanders since taking office, seeks to establish a separate, smaller law enforcement body that would operate independently. If established, the national guard will consist of several thousand volunteers who would be trained by Israel’s border police, under the IDF. A similar plan was debated but not approved under former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

The Israeli markets rallied on Monday following the news. 

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