After a day of strikes, Israel protests as PM Netanyahu delays legal reforms.
Following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he will postpone a significant portion of the contentious plans to revamp the court system, there is an uncomfortable calm returning to Israel.
He declared on Monday night that he would put the legislation on hold to avoid “a rupture among our people.”
Yet it’s unclear what a postponement will accomplish other than buy time.
It came as demonstrations grew more vocal when he dismissed his defense minister for speaking out against the proposals.
In unprecedented events, the country’s biggest trade union called a strike, and Israelis watched society close down around them.
Services were suspended everywhere, including at hospitals, businesses, and banks. The co-ordinated move was aimed to bring Mr Netanyahu back from the brink of pushing through the reforms by the end of this week.
The head of the opposition, Yair Lapid, referred to it as the “greatest crisis in the history of the nation.”
The government, which is the most right-wing Israel has ever seen, is attempting to seize firm control over the panel that chooses judges. The revisions would make it more challenging to declare a prime minister unfit for office and remove them from power and would grant the parliament the authority to override Supreme Court rulings with a simple majority.
Mr Netanyahu said the amendments would stop judges over-reaching their powers, but critics suggested they would help him as he confronts an ongoing trial for corruption. In three cases, he has been on trial for allegations of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing and claims he is the victim of a “witch hunt”.
Since they were unveiled on January 4, practically every aspect of Israeli society, including some of its powerful military, has expressed indignation about the proposed changes. On Monday night, when he finally addressed the nation, he was quick to point the finger. H
e criticized military reservists who opposed the bill by announcing they wouldn’t report for duty and accused a “extremist minority” of attempting to stoke division in the country. His own contribution to the turmoil in the nation was not acknowledged.
The answer Mr. Netanyahu has offered will buy him time, but it won’t address the issue because protesters fought to have this bill repealed, not delayed.
The opposition to Israel has promised to start a new conversation.
Mr Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partner, the Jewish Power party, claimed they had lifted a veto on any delay to implementing the changes in return for an assurance that Mr Netanyahu will approve them at the next session of parliament.
What is the crisis in Israel about?
When parliament reconvenes at the end of April following a break that starts on Sunday, that could occur at any time.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Jewish Power’s leader, also said he supported the postponement since, in exchange, Mr Netanyahu had agreed to put his national security ministry in charge of a new “national guard”.
Supporters and detractors of the Knesset staged counter-protests in the center of Jerusalem. One thing united them – the blue and white flag hoisted by both factions. It has been a bitterly divided nation for weeks, and Israelis are aware that it is still not over.
Protests erupted on Sunday after Netanyahu fired his defence minister Yoav Gallant, who had spoken out against controversial plans to overhaul the justice system.
Nevertheless a statewide strike put forth by the Histadrut labour union was called off after Mr Netanyahu stated he would delay the reforms.
Isaac Herzog, the president of Israel, argued that the delay was “the right thing to do.” He had previously called for an immediate halt to the plans.
Mr Lapid cautiously welcomed the delay to the reform package.
In his words, “If the administration engages in a meaningful and fair discussion, we can emerge from this crisis stronger and more united, and we can turn this into a defining moment in our capacity for coexistence.”
Elsewhere, the White House said US President Joe Biden would address the Israeli prime minister’s decision later on Monday.
Spokesman John Kirby said the United States remained worried about the situation in Israel but declined to comment directly on the postponement.