The Israeli government will suspend the legislative process of the disputed justice reform until the summer, after the great protests and the general strike caused by the dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said he was against the reform. On Monday evening, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced in a speech the suspension of the reform until the end of the session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and beyond, so as to have “a real possibility of dialogue”. However, Netanyahu added that he is not willing to tolerate that “a minority of extremists want to tear our country apart and lead us to civil war”.
Between Sunday and Monday, tens of thousands of people protested against the law, while trade unions and important business sectors called a general strike. On Monday, among other things, the unions blocked Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, the most important in the country, preventing all departures and arrivals. They had also closed schools, universities, banks, shopping malls, embassies abroad, while hospitals and clinics had reduced services to a minimum.
However, the justice reform, which according to his critics threatens the autonomy of the Israeli judicial system, has only been suspended, and Netanyahu has promised his far-right allies that it will be approved by the end of the Knesset’s summer session: the next April 2 will close for a break between two legislative sessions, and Netanyahu is expected to try to use this time to reach an agreement with the opposition. However, the issue of judicial reform has become very polarized, and it is likely that the protests, which have been going on for months now, will not stop.
The reform proposed by Netanyahu, a first part of which has already been approved, removes powers from the Supreme Court to entrust them to the government: it provides, among other things, for the government to appoint judges to the Supreme Court, the removal of some judicial system on the government and in general a wider freedom of the executive on the appointment of judges. The reform is hotly contested because in Israel, where there is no real constitution, the Supreme Court has an exceptionally important role and is one of the few counterweights to the power of the incumbent government.
The possibility that the reform could be blocked or suspended has created enormous divisions within the government, and the decision came after lengthy negotiations. Netanyahu’s government is made up of an alliance between Likud, Netanyahu’s right-wing nationalist party, and other far-right parties close to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox. Throughout Monday, the representatives of the coalition’s ultra-Orthodox parties, for which the reform of the judiciary is a fundamental element of the government pact, had threatened to leave the majority if the reform was blocked.
In particular, Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the far-right Jewish Power party and Minister of Public Security, had announced that he would resign if approval of the reform were blocked. Netanyahu has reached a compromise with Ben-Gvir in which he has promised that the reform will in any case be approved by the end of the summer, giving him in exchange the possibility of creating a new national militia, an armed body which would in a certain sense be under direct command by Ben-Gvir. There is currently not much information on this militia.
Just before Netanyahu spoke, Ben-Gvir ha written on Twitter: «The reform will pass. The national militia will be established. The budget I requested for the Ministry of Public Security will be approved in its entirety.”
The suspension of the reform is probably the result of the accumulation of protests and opposition both among the Israeli population and within the government itself.
The resignation of Defense Minister Gallant, in particular, has created an extremely broad set of reactions. Gallant had asked to stop the reform because it constituted a “clear and immediate and tangible danger to the security of the state”, mainly due to the fact that hundreds of soldiers and reservists were refusing to serve in protest. On Sunday, Netanyahu removed Gallant from his post.
The extension of anti-reform resistance into ever-widening sectors of Israeli society has probably worried Netanyahu, who until now had always ignored the protests. Growing divisions within the governing coalition are also likely to have contributed to the decision to suspend the reform process. Netanyahu’s majority in the Israeli parliament (64 out of 120 deputies) is solid by the standards of local politics but does not make the prime minister immune from possible internal riots.
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