Israel dispatch: defense minister calls for halt to judicial reform package and protests in extraordinary national TV address Dispatches
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Israel dispatch: defense minister calls for halt to judicial reform package and protests in extraordinary national TV address

Sharon Basch is an Israeli American who spent the last two years living in Israel before starting her JD at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

In a short national TV address Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called for the immediate suspension of pending judicial overhaul legislation as well as an immediate stop to the mass protests against it that have occurred around the country for some 12 weeks now. Gallant urged the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt passage of the legislation until at least after April 25th (Israeli Independence day) in order to allow a genuine discussion between the government and the opposition. He said that both the swift passage of legislation and protests pose serious security concerns for the country. Today, an estimated 270,000 Israelis demonstrated against the reforms as protests continue.

The speech follows rumors of Gallant potentially stepping down from his position as Israeli reservists, especially air force pilots and high-level intelligence officers, have lately refused to return to duty, declaring that they will not serve under non-democratic leadership. There are serious concerns that active-duty military will soon join the reservists, despite the possibility of punishment from their commanders. No such refusals or resignations were mentioned in Gallant’s speech.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted immediately following the Gallant’s speech:

Defense Minister Gallant is taking a brave and vital step tonight for the security of the State of Israel. The coup d’état seriously harms national security and it is his role and responsibility to stop the deterioration. This is the moment of truth. I call on the government – stop everything, do not pass the change in the committee for the appointment of judges and the Deri law this week, and come and hold talks at the president’s house.

Former Minister of Defense Benny Gantz meanwhile tweeted:

Minister Gallant said powerful words today that should be a wake-up call in every home in Israel. Not only democracy is in danger, not only our resilience is in danger – Israel’s security is also in danger. Calls on him and other members of Likud to announce that they will vote against the legislation this week, and pledges that as soon as the legislation is stopped we will enter into dialogue with the intention of reaching national agreements.

Leading Knesset member Yuli Edelstein of Netanyahu’s Likud party echoed this sentiment:

I thank my friend, Minister of Defense Yoav Galant, who joined the path I have been leading for weeks. The majority of the people want and understand the need for changes in the judicial system, but this must be done with patience, dialogue and broad discourse in order to reach a broad consensus. The State of Israel is strong and will continue to be strong – together.

In opposition to these calls for restraint and compromise, Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was previously convicted on incitement to racism and support for a terrorist organization and is largely considered a provocateur, responded: “Gallant gave in tonight with blackmail and threats to all those anarchists who call for resistance and use the IDF as a bargaining tool. Gallant was elected by the votes of right-wing voters and in practice promotes a left-wing agenda. At the moment of truth he collapsed under the pressure of the media and the protesters.” Ben-Gvir then called on the prime minister to make Gallant resign.

Despite similar statements from several other Likud members, it is not certain that a majority of the party will halt the reforms, or vote against them in parliament next week.