After weeks of protests that paralyzed the country, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would postpone a plan to overhaul its judicial system amidst fears that the ongoing demonstrations might escalate further into violence and fracture his coalition.
Israel's Netanyahu delays controversial judiciary overhaul after mass protests @NatashaTurak @RMIordache @smeredith19 https://t.co/JPn6odKT4g
— Ted Kemp (@TedKempCNBC) March 28, 2023
Netanyahu agreed with his far-right security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, to extend the bill seeking to reform Israel’s judicial system to the next session, which would follow the Passover recess in April, to pass the proposal through negotiations.
However, it remained unclear how the plan to delay the bill would satisfy both sides of the issue or de-escalate a crisis that an Israeli army chief said on March 27 made "this hour different to any before.”
“I am taking the time out for dialogue,” Netanyahu said in a televised press conference. “From a will to prevent the rift in the nation, I have decided to delay the second and third reading to reach a broad consensus,” he added, describing his move as “a chance to avoid a civil war."
LIVE: Protests against Israel's right-wing government in Tel Aviv https://t.co/Fq9eCGWxyR
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 4, 2023
The plan of Netanyahu’s government, perhaps the most right-wing in Israel’s history, to allow the Knesset to override the Supreme Court’s decisions and seize control over judicial appointments sparked outrage in the country, causing massive protests from the opposition, who described the proposal as a threat to Israel’s democracy.
But despite massive protests and a general strike by Israel’s trade unions, the latest development of the issue indicates that Netanyahu has no plans to drop the bill yet.
As part of his agreement with one of his coalition partners, Netanyahu agreed to establish a National Guard under the Ministry of National Security’s control, a move criticized by many Israelis as giving Ben-Gvir his militia.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a delay in his judicial overhaul plan Monday, saying he wanted “to avoid civil war" after two days of massive protests.
Here's what you need to know. https://t.co/ovrzoYOVFJ pic.twitter.com/Zdj1vp1Ct6
— The Associated Press (@AP) March 28, 2023
His government also survived a no-confidence vote in the Knesset on March 27, following his decision to remove his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, for his objections to the bill. His removal only increased tensions and opposition against the proposal.
While opponents of the bill said they would continue to increase the pressure to drop the bill entirely, many Israeli politicians welcomed the move. Opposition leader Benny Gantz noted Netanyahu’s decision was "better late than never” but added that he would never compromise the "basics of democracy" in any dialogue regarding the proposal.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog asked Netanyahu to halt the controversial bill's passing process in a rare intervention.
"For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I am calling on you to stop the legislation immediately,” Herzog said. “I turn to all the party leaders in the Knesset, coalition, and opposition as one, put the citizens of the nation above all else, and behave responsibly and bravely without further delay."
: The protests in Israel are the culmination of a long-festering culture war between generals and the religious right that's not going to go away, argues writer and journalist @Jonathan_K_Cook in his column https://t.co/E5sCsx8cBW
— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) March 31, 2023
The crisis came as violence escalated in the West Bank, where Palestinians said Israeli soldiers and settlers stormed the town of Huwara on March 27, firing rifles into the air. Some witnesses also said the Israeli settlers set a vehicle on fire and even threw stones at an ambulance trying to reach the wounded.
Netanyahu dismissed the criticism regarding his coalition’s proposal to overhaul the judicial system, saying that “the claim that this reform is the end of democracy is baseless.” The longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, Netanyahu is facing charges of corruption and other crimes, meaning he would likely benefit from a weaker judiciary.