By Robbert van der Linde
March 27, 2023 at 10:34 am
Israel’s contentious judicial reforms split the land in two like the Red Sea in the Biblical story of Moses. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under intense pressure to call off the reforms, but at the same time putting his governing coalition (and therefore his own position) at risk.
The Israeli Supreme Court would gain influence in the plans of the right-wing coalition. Also, the appointment of all judges would have to be approved by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Netanyahu’s Likud party and their coalition partners have had a majority since November’s elections.
Netanyahu argued that the reforms would restore the “balance” between the judiciary and parliament. Opponents are of the opinion that the balance would tip too far towards parliament. The reforms would affect the independence of the judiciary.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was critical of the announced reforms in a televised speech on Saturday. He was fired by Netanyahu on Sunday. Gallant’s forced departure caused a wave of protest in all layers of society.
Israeli citizens have been protesting almost daily against the government’s policies for months. After Gallant’s firing, tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets on Sunday to protest. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, among others, the police used water cannons to push back demonstrators and to extinguish set fires.
Protests are also expected on Monday. On social media, protesters say they are on their way to Netanyahu’s house and the parliament building in Jerusalem, among other things. The prime minister was due to deliver a speech on Monday in which he was expected to announce that the reforms would be suspended at least temporarily. That speech has already been postponed several times.
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Netanyahu in difficult splits
President Isaac Herzog called on Netanyahu Monday morning not to push through with the reforms. He focused on that Twitter personally to the Prime Minister. “The eyes of the people of Israel and the Jewish people around the world are on you. For the sake of the people, I call on you to immediately stop the reform process.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid called on Netanyahu to reverse Gallant’s resignation. “Gallant was fired for speaking the truth,” said the former prime minister. Lapid led the group of parties that managed to form an unlikely coalition in June 2021. With that, Netanyahu was no longer prime minister after twelve years.
Netanyahu’s coalition partners are threatening to leave the government if the reforms do not go through. Far-right security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir wrote down Twitter that the government should not “give in to anarchy”.
Major strike would bring society to a standstill
Just before Netanyahu’s speech was due to take place, the largest trade union association threatened a large-scale strike. According to chairman Arnon Bar-David, the trade union Histadrut is calling on all its members to stop working if the reforms continue. Histadrut represents factory workers and shopkeepers, among others.
At Ben Gurion Airport, the largest airport in the country, all departing flights were canceled almost immediately after the Bar-David announcement. Airport employees are also covered by the association of unions.
Hospital staff and local administrators have also announced they will join the strike if the reforms are not called off. Netanyahu thus seems to have to choose between the fall of his government or a country that comes to a complete standstill.