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Netanyahu delays his judiciary reform after Monday’s huge protests throughout Israel

On Monday, March 27, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the delay of the legislative process of his government's controversial judicial reform.

Netanyahu announced his decision in an address to the nation, in which he said that when there is a possibility of preventing a civil war through dialogue, the prime minister has to take a timeout for dialogue. The suspension of the reform process was widely expected after the intense protests that took place on Sunday evening and Monday in Israel. According to sources inside the organization of the protests cited by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, at least 700,000 people took to the streets to protest, more than 10% of the adult Israeli population.

Protesters in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

There were some doubts about the decision by Netanyahu, who had delayed his speech throughout the day, mainly due to opposition to the suspension of the reform by some members of his government. Justice Minister Yariv Levin had threatened to resign from his role but then accepted the decision of the prime minister, who belongs to his party, the Likud. The harshest criticisms came from National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, of the far-right and ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party. Ben Gvir is a key Netanyahu ally in the ruling coalition. His discontent over the suspension of the reform could have caused a crisis within the government, which however subsided following Ben Gvir's announcement of support for Netanyahu's decision.

In a message posted on Twitter, Ben Gvir said that the reform is only suspended and will be approved by the summer. Furthermore, he announced the establishment of a national militia.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir at the entrance to Ben-Gurion Airport, March 9, 2023 (Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The latest protests have been the most intense and well-attended since Justice Minister Levin announced the details of the justice system reform in January. The protests began on Sunday evening in several Israeli cities following Netanyahu's decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Netanyahu's press office did not provide explanations regarding the decision, publishing a brief statement that read: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided, this evening, to dismiss Defense Minister Yoav Gallant." According to many local observers and journalists, Netanyahu's decision came due to Gallant's firm opposition to the continuation of the legislative process of the reform. The defense minister's dismissal seemed to signal Netanyahu's firm will to continue with the vote in the local parliament - the Knesset - by the end of the week. Parliamentary work will be suspended at the end of this week and will only resume in May.

The reform of the judicial system includes two important proposals. The reform involves a change in the powers of the Israeli Supreme Court, whose decisions could be overturned by a simple majority vote in the local unicameral parliament. Therefore, 61 votes among the 120 members of the Knesset would be enough to overturn the decisions of the Court. Netanyahu's government is currently supported by 64 members of the Knesset.

The second proposal concerns the amendment of the composition of the independent commission for the appointment of Israeli judges - the Judicial Selection Committee. The committee appoints both the judges of the Supreme Court and those of the minor courts. The commission is currently made up of 9 members, 4 of whom are political appointees, chosen by the government. The change would lead to an increase in the number of commission members to 11, 8 of whom would be politically appointed, thus potentially undermining the independence of the Supreme Court in exercising the judiciary.

Critics of the reform say it would weaken Israel's system of checks and balances, undermine the independence of the judiciary, and concentrate most of the powers in the hands of the incumbent government. According to a survey by the Israel Democracy Institute polling firm, most Israeli citizens opposed the reform.

The reactions of the opposition parties to the suspension of the reform varied. The leader of the Yesh Atid center party and former prime minister, Yair Lapid, welcomed Netanyahu's choice and said he was open to dialogue with the government. Instead, the leader of the center-left Labor Party, Merav Michaeli, criticized the suspension of the works. According to Michaeli, the reform should have been completely dismantled.


Edited by: Ritaja Kar



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