JERUSALEM: Amid fears that Israel’s worst national crisis in years could fracture his coalition or escalate into violence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday delayed a decision on bitterly contested plans for a judicial overhaul until next month.
It was unclear how far the bill’s delay to the next parliamentary session, coming after weeks of mass protests, will satisfy either side or cool a crisis the army chief said on Monday made “this hour different to any before”.
A hard-right coalition partner, Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, agreed to the delay in exchange for a commitment to submit the legislation in the next session of parliament. But another important hard-right lawmaker called it a mistake.
Opponents of the plan to tighten parliament’s control over judicial processes say it is a threat to democracy and have mobilised huge protests against it. Supporters of the legislation, including far-right football fans, have promised counter demonstrations.
Furious scenes witnessed as thousands of protesters take to Tel Aviv streets; US welcomes move
Army chief of staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi said on Monday: “We have not known such days of external threats coalescing, while a storm is brewing at home.”
Netanyahu, who called on Twitter for both sides to avoid violence, was trying to hold together his nationalist-religious coalition after his decision on Sunday to sack the defence chief for opposing his plans prompted mass overnight protests.
After expressing initial concerns, the White House also welcomed the move and said it has created a space for “compromise”.
“We welcome this announcement as an opportunity to create additional time and space for compromise,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said after the announcement by the Israel prime minister.
Earlier, the US president has urged Netanyahu for a compromise.
While the government says the overhaul is needed to rein in activist judges and set a proper balance between the elected government and the judiciary, opponents see it as an undermining of legal checks and balances and a threat to Israel’s democracy.
Uproar in the Knesset
During furious scenes in the Knesset early on Monday, opposition members of parliament attacked Simcha Rothman, the committee chairman who has shepherded the bill, with cries of “Shame! Shame!” “This is a hostile takeover of the State of Israel. No need for Hamas, no need for Hezbollah,” one lawmaker was heard saying to Rothman as the constitution committee approved a key bill to go forward for ratification.
Rothman later said told Israeli Channel Seven that delaying the law would be a mistake.
As opposition spread, the head of the Histadrut labour union called for a general strike if the proposals were not halted.
Night of protests
As parliament passed a confidence vote in the government, tens of thousands of protesters returned to the streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, many waving the blue and white Israeli flags that have been become an emblem of the protests.
The judicial legislation has ignited some of the biggest street demonstrations in Israel’s history and drawn a rare intervention by the head of state.
“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” President Isaac Herzog said on Twitter.It followed a dramatic night of protests in cities across Israel following Netanyahu’s announcement that he had decided to dismiss Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for opposing the plans.
Gallant urged the government to halt its plans, warning that the deep split it had opened up in Israeli society was affecting the military and threatening national security.
Flights from Ben Gurion airport were grounded and seaports, banks, hospitals and medical services were also set to stop work as the head of the national labour union Histadrut called for a general strike to stop the judicial overhaul going ahead.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2023
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