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Netanyahu pauses judicial overhaul to ‘avoid civil war’

TJI Wrap
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Published: 28 March 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

With warnings on national security, an unprecedented strike and massive protests, Israel’s PM was forced to reconsider the controversial legislation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced he will temporarily freeze his government's controversial plans to enfeeble the judicial system, following a night of mass demonstrations across the country and an unprecedented general strike.

In a televised statement on Monday evening, Netanyahu said that he had ordered "the pause" on the controversial legislation until after the Knesset recess in order "to give a real opportunity for real dialogue."

"One thing I am not willing to accept - there are a minority of extremists that are willing to tear our country to shreds…escorting us to civil war and calling for refusal of army service, which is a terrible crime," Netanyahu said.

The prime minister compared the situation in Israel to the story of the Judgement of Solomon, saying that "both sides claim they love the baby, that they love our country."

The pause was immediately welcomed by Israel's president Isaac Herzog, who has proposed a compromise over the legislation, and by the White House.

Justice Minister Yair Levin and Otzma Yehudit coalition partner Itamar Ben-Gvir had both threatened to resign if Netanyahu paused the legislation but neither is expected to follow through. The Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu had agreed to subjugate Israel's National Guard to National Security MinisterBen-Gvir, in exchange for Otzma Yehudit promising not to leave the government, a move one human rights group said would create "a private, armed militia that would be directly under Ben-Gvir's control".

The catalyst for achieving the pause came on Saturday when Defence Minister Yoav Gallant warned that the rift in Israeli society posed a threat to national security and called on Netanyahu to pause the legislation.

Netanyahu responded by immediately sacking Gallant, a move which spurred massive protests and an unprecedented general strike across Israel.

“I see the source of our strength eroding,” Gallant, a former general, warned in a televised address. “The growing rift in our society is penetrating the IDF and security agencies. This poses a clear, immediate, and tangible threat to the security of the state. I will not lend my hand to this.”

The defence minister stressed Israel was facing “great threats — both near and far,” citing Iran’s nuclear program, Palestinian attacks and recent tensions with the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. “More than ever, we face unprecedented security challenges,” he said.

Gallant is the first senior Likud politician to openly come out against the controversial legislation. Two other Likud members, Yuli Edelstein and David Bitan, have spoken against the judicial overhaul and it was reported on Saturday that at least on other Likud MK had spoken with the PM about stopping the bill.

Four rebel lawmakers who vote against the legislation would deny the 64-member coalition a majority in the 120-member parliament. If they were to merely abstain the coalition would still have the votes to pass the law, but it would be easier for the High Court to strike down an amendment to one of the quasi-constitutional Basic Laws if it were passed with fewer than 61 MKs, experts believe.

As Gallant warned of the security dangers, the New York Times reported that IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi had told government leaders that the army is on the verge of reducing the scope of certain operations due to the large number of reservists refusing to report for duty.

The IDF’s top brass is also concerned that the protests against the government’s effort to restrict the Supreme Court’s power might spread from reservists to full-time soldiers, two government officials told the Times.

The Biden administration also expressed deep concern about the security situation. "We are deeply concerned by the ongoing developments in Israel, including the potential impact on military readiness raised by Minister Gallant, which further underscores the urgent need for compromise,” the White House National Security spokesman said.

Commentator Anshel Pfeffer wrote that the sacking of Gallant was an unprecedented act from a prime minister who has always had difficult relationships with his defence ministers but never before taken security risks.

 “This is Netanyahu like he’s never been before. Gone is the risk-averse and pragmatic prime minister who even his rivals admitted didn’t ‘play games with national security’," wrote Pfeffer.

But in the end, the Israelis on the street were able to achieve what even the former general could not - at least for now.


Netanyahu Pauses Judicial Overhaul After Unprecedented Strikes, Protests Rock Israel (Haaretz)

Gallant calls to pause judicial overhaul, citing ‘tangible danger’ to state security (Times of Israel)

Ben-Gvir Agrees to Netanyahu's Judicial Overhaul Delay in Exchange for Israeli National Guard (Jerusalem Post)

Biden admin "deeply concerned" after Netanyahu sacks defence minister (Axios)

Israel’s Army Fears Effect of Judicial Crisis on Battlefield Readiness (NY Times, paywall)


Firing his defence minister, Netanyahu raises public anger at his rule to new heights (David Horovitz, Times of Israel)
Yoav Gallant was booted a day after he warned that the PM’s judicial revolution threatens national security. For more and more Israelis, it’s Netanyahu who’s the security threat.

Netanyahu is now pyromaniac-in-chief of a government of arsonists (Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz)
Netanyahu has made it clear to Israel that he is not only prepared to risk a constitutional crisis, but he is willing to take on the entire security establishment just so he can pass a law that allows his coalition to pick the next Supreme Court justices.

How a once-cautious Benjamin Netanyahu came to lead the most radical coalition in Israel’s history (JTA)
The “old Bibi” once sought to unite the country, until hubris and self-preservation took hold, writes a fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Photo: Defence Minister Yoav Gallant speaks in a televised address on i24 (screenshot)

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