Israel on Brink of Civil War as PM Postpones Judicial Reform Amid Violent Protests
Bending to a wave of mass protests, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed his contentious judicial overhaul plan on Monday and said he wanted ‘to avoid civil war’ by making time to seek a compromise with political opponents. The announcement appeared to calm some of the tensions that have fueled three tumultuous months of unrest. But it failed to address the underlying issues that have polarized the nation, and the anti-governmental protest movement vowed to intensify its efforts.
In his prime-time address, Netanyahu, who had previously rejected calls to delay the legislation, took a more conciliatory tone than in recent speeches. He acknowledged the deep divisions in the country and said he was hitting the pause button ‘to prevent a rift in the nation.’
He spoke after tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated outside parliament, and the country’s largest labour union launched a nationwide strike in a dramatic escalation of the mass protest movement against his plan. Netanyahu and his religious and ultranationalist allies presented the overhaul in January just days after forming their government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
The proposal has plunged Israel into its worst domestic crisis in decades. Business leaders, top economists and former security chiefs have all come out against the plan, saying it is pushing the country toward an autocracy. Fighter pilots and military reservists have threatened not to report for duty, and the country’s currency, the shekel, has tumbled in value. The plan would give Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, and his allies the final say in appointing the nation’s judges. It would also give parliament, which is controlled by its allies, authority to overturn Supreme Court decisions and limit the court’s ability to review laws.
Netanyahu has argued that the overhaul is needed to rein in a liberal and overly interventionist court of unelected judges. But his opponents say the package would damage the country’s system of checks and balances by concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu’s allies. They also say that he has a conflict of interest as a criminal defendant.
Tens of thousands of people, largely secular, middle-class Israelis, have regularly joined mass protests against the plan. Those demonstrations ramped up Sunday night after Netanyahu abruptly fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had urged the prime minister to put his plan on hold, citing concerns about damage to the Israeli military.