Wed | Nov 29, 2023

Netanyahu delays judicial overhaul after mass protests

Published:Tuesday | March 28, 2023 | 12:52 AM
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan outside the parliament in Jerusalem yesterday.
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan outside the parliament in Jerusalem yesterday.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a delay in his judicial overhaul plan on Monday, saying he wanted “to avoid civil war” by making time to seek a compromise over the contentious package with political opponents.

Netanyahu made the announcement after two days of large protests against the plan.

“When there’s an opportunity to avoid civil war through dialogue, I, as prime minister, am taking a timeout for dialogue,” Netanyahu said in a nationally televised address.

Striking a more conciliatory tone than in previous speeches, he said he was determined to pass a judicial reform, but called for “an attempt to achieve broad consensus”.

Immediately after Netanyahu’s statement, the head of the country’s largest trade union said it would call off a general strike that threatened to grind Israel’s economy to a halt.

Israel’s figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, welcomed the pause and said it was “time for frank, serious and responsible discussion that will lead urgently to calming spirits and lowering the flames”.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said that if the judicial overhaul was indeed halted, he was willing to hold dialogue brokered by the president.

Netanyahu spoke after tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated outside parliament and workers launched a nationwide strike on Monday, in a dramatic escalation of the mass protest movement aimed at halting his plan.

The chaos shut down much of the country and threatened to paralyse the economy. Departing flights from the main international airport were grounded. Large mall chains and universities closed their doors, and Israel’s largest trade union called for its 800,000 members to stop work in healthcare, transit, banking and other fields.

Diplomats walked off the job at foreign missions, and local governments were expected to close preschools and cut other services. The main doctors union announced that its members would also strike.

The growing resistance to Netanyahu’s plan came hours after tens of thousands of people burst into the streets around the country in a spontaneous show of anger at the prime minister’s decision to fire his defence minister, after he called for a pause to the overhaul. Chanting “The country is on fire,” they lit bonfires on Tel Aviv’s main highway, closing the thoroughfare and many others throughout the country for hours.

Demonstrators gathered again onMonday outside the Knesset, or parliament, turning the streets surrounding the building and the Supreme Court into a roiling sea of blue-and-white Israeli flags dotted with rainbow Pride banners. Large demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities drew thousands more.