Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant
(Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant)

Mass protests grip Israel as defense minister urges govt to stop judicial reform

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has called on the government to stop the controversial judicial reform legislation that has provoked mass protests across the country. “At this time, we must stop the process and sit down to talk,” Gallant who is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own right-wing Likud party said. “I am committed to Likud values … and placing the State of Israel above all … but major changes on the national level must be made through deliberations and dialogue,” Galant added.

Israelis are demonstrating on the streets of Israel for the past two months  after the government announced its proposed judicial reforms. The latest protest against the plan saw tens of thousands rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday (March 25). Local media estimated 200,000 people turned out for the demonstration.

Tens of thousands also attended protests in numerous other locations throughout the country, including major cities like Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba. Protest organizers claimed that in total, over 630,000 people attended the rallies. According to Haaretz’s count, more than 40 people in total were arrested over the course of Saturday night’s protests across Israel.

Netanyahu has insisted on carrying out the overhaul which according to him is designed to stop the courts over-reaching their powers. It would allow the Knesset, or parliament, to pass laws rejected by courts, as well as give the government more power in appointing judges.

Critics say the changes will weaken the courts and hand unbridled power to the government, endangering rights and liberties with catastrophic effects for the economy and relations with Western allies. They also say Netanyahu has a conflict of interest while he is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving wealthy associates and powerful media moguls. He denies wrongdoing.

The government’s plan has plunged the nearly 75-year-old nation into one of its worst domestic crises.

UPDATE 27/03/2023

Netanyahu on Sunday fired the nation’s defense minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday (March 26). Local media reported that thousands of people gathered on streets across Israel to protest Gallant’s dismissal. Israel’s Consul General in New York Asaf Zamir resigned on Sunday. According to Zamir’s resignation letter, the decision to fire Gallant was “dangerous.”

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called on Netanyahu to “immediately” stop the judicial overhaul. In a statement released on Twitter on Monday (March 27), Herzog warned Netanyahu, the government and the ruling coalition that the “eyes of the whole world” are on them and that Israel’s security, economy, and society are all “threatened,” urging them to act “for the sake of the unity” and “for the sake of the responsibility.”

Meanwhile Netanyahu and government ministers are discussing pausing the controversial legislation, according to local media.

UPDATE 27/03/2023 19:53

Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir announced that the government delayed the proposed judicial overhaul for the next legislative term. The parliament summer sitting begins on April 30, and will last until the end of July. Earlier today, Radio Kan reported that Netanyahu was considering suspending his controversial judicial reform. The Prime Minister announced the suspension of legislation as part of the reform, for the purpose of dialogue.

With reporting by Haaretz, The Times of Israel