Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday announced that he will delay proposed reforms of Israel’s judicial system. The postponement comes in the face of mass protests, diplomatic resignations, job walkouts and increasing opposition from members of Netanyahu’s party, foreign governments and NGOs.
“When there’s an opportunity to avoid civil war through dialogue, I, as prime minister, am taking a timeout for dialogue,” Netanyahu declared in a nationally televised address. While he nevertheless “insisted on the need” for the judicial reforms, Netanyahu also spoke of “the opportunity to achieve a broad consensus” as a “worthy goal.”
Protests against the reforms, which have continued since Netanyahu formed his new government in late December, rose to a fever pitch in the past week after Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday. Gallant called for the judicial reforms to be suspended, warning that the societal rifts caused by the reforms were compromising the efficacy of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Netanyahu must now balance the discontent in his country with the demands of his governmental coalition, largely comprised of far-right, nationalist, religious and ultra-orthodox parties who heavily back the reforms.
In the aftermath of Netanyahu’s announcement, protests have calmed, and labour unions called off general strikes. However, opponents of the reforms remain wary that the current respite is only a temporary one, and that the delay is merely a tactic to buy time while tensions cool. “How many more times can we fall into the trap of cooperating with Netanyahu?” asked Merav Michaeli, head of the centre-left Labor Party. “The struggle and protest must continue and intensify.”
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced that he agreed to delay the reforms in exchange for Netanyahu’s support of a “National Guard” under Ben Gvir’s control. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an Israeli human rights group, warned that the National Guard would be “an armed private militia that will be directly subordinate to Ben Gvir.” Ben Gvir, who leads the far-right Jewish Power party, was previously convicted on incitement to racism and support for a terrorist organization.