Netanyahu pauses push for judicial reforms, saying 'I will not lead Israel to civil war'

In response to massive strikes and protests, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Monday to delay a vote on judicial reforms until the summer.

On Monday, a nationwide strike by labor unions and university workers began following another night of protests on Israel’s streets after Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant who was opposed to the prime minister’s plan to limit the Supreme Court’s power.

Gallant was fired after he gave a speech calling for Netanyahu to suspend the push for the reforms claiming the proposals were a threat to Israel’s security.

According to News 12, “Netanyahu and [Itamar] Ben Gvir agreed – the legislation will be postponed until the summer conference.” Gvir is a leader of the Otzma Yehudit party, which is part of the coalition that put Netanyahu back in power following the last election in December.

Netanyahu is attempting to expand the Israeli Knesset’s authority by reducing the Supreme Court’s power, as critics of the judicial branch believe it has too much power and is not accountable to the voters.

The prime minister’s proposals create the checks and balances between the legislative and judicial branches similar to the US which many believe is essential because Israel does not have a written constitution.

The parliament, the Israeli Knesset, would have an increased role in the selection of judges and the power to override Supreme Court decisions overturning laws under the proposed reforms. The court would also be forced to apply the law in rulings rather than dictating law based on its own “reasonability” test.

Leftist protesters responded with protests, blocking streets and bridges and lighting fires on roadways and railways. Hundreds of thousands of people protested in the streets of major cities across the small country.

Netanyahu had previously pledged not to yield on the drive for reforms push. However, Gallant’s opposition in addition to the protests and crippling strikes that included the airport right before the Jewish holiday of Passover seems to have convinced Netanyahu to back down for the time being. In announcing the pause Netanyahu stated, that his coalition government would bring a reform that will "return the balance that was lost between the [government] branches," while "safeguarding and even strengthening individual rights."

Other Israeli officials had also called for a pause, including President Isaac Herzog, Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar, and Diaspora Affairs and Social Equality Minister Amichai Chikli had also called for suspending the legislation.

Former Jerusalem mayor and now Economy Minister Nir Barkat, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, despite supporting the reforms, expressed concerns that the current push for the reforms could lead to a civil war.

The prime minister also criticized an "extreme" minority amongst reform opponents, including those who threatened to refuse to deploy for reserve duty which could lead to "the end of our country," and that supporters of the action who call for anarchy and violence, are willing to tear the country apart. Netanyahu added that the Jewish state was on a "dangerous path," and that he would not allow the tensions to descend into civil war. 

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