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Netanyahu pauses judicial reform laws

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JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday, March 27, that he would postpone a vote on far-reaching reforms to the judiciary and engage in dialogue with the opposition.

The first meeting between different political parties concerning judicial reform, led by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, center, took place at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on March 28. Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO

In his televised address, Netanyahu cited fears of civil war, which Israeli President Isaac Herzog had also warned of.

“I am not ready to tear the people into shreds,” Netanyahu said Monday in remarks broadcast just past 8 p.m. Israel time. “We are not facing enemies but brothers. I am saying now and here, there must not be a civil war.

“I have decided to delay the second and third readings of the legislation until the Knesset reconvenes,” roughly a month from now, at the end of April, though it could begin later.

He said the break — which includes the Jewish and Israeli holidays of Passover, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day — would be devoted to dialogue.

Netanyahu’s announcement marks a significant victory for opponents of the judicial reform.

As it stands, the legislation backed by the political right would shift the appointment of judges by the judges themselves and place the selection process substantially in the hands of elected representatives, that is, the ruling coalition of the time.

Two liberal Supreme Court judges are slated to retire in the next year. The political left wants their replacements to be in their image, which the current selection process would assure.

The proposed legistation would also essentially remove the court’s ability to review laws passed by the Knesset. As it stands, the court’s authority is over both laws and policy.

Leaders of a strike called on Monday to protest the reforms called it off immediately after Netanyahu’s speech.

The legislation, which in its general outline was part of the platform of the winning parties in the most recent election, has been controversial ever since it was unveiled in its details near the beginning of the year.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to oppose the proposals, and their calls were joined by a chorus of public figures, in Israel and abroad, who said that the overhaul would remove a key component of Israel’s democratic system.
Reservists in the Israel Defense Forces said they would absent themselves from duty in protest.

For the first time, a massive protest in support of the government was held last weekend (see story, page 6).

Netanyahu and his coalition say that the reform reflects the will of Israel’s right-wing majority. But, facing the threats from reservists, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced on television on March 25 that he supported a pause in the legislation, as well as dialogue toward a compromise.

He said internal conflict in the IDF surrounding the overhaul put Israel’s security at risk.

One day later, on Sunday night, Netanyahu fired Gallant — a decision that sparked massive protests across the country, starting late Sunday night and lasting until Monday’s early hours, and then reconvening Monday afternoon.

In his speech on Monday, Netanyahu railed against reservists refusing to report for duty, which he called a “terrible crime.”

“The state of Israel cannot exist without the IDF, and the IDF cannot exist with refusal,” he said.

“Refusal from one side will lead to refusal from the other side.

“Refusal is the end of our country.

“So I demand — demand — of the commanders of the security forces, and the commanders of the IDF, to forcefully oppose the phenomenon of refusal.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as conditioning his acceptance of Netanyahu’s call for dialogue on his genuine shelving of the legislation.

Lapid said the dialogue should lead to the writing of a constitution for Israel, which the country currently lacks, under the aegis of President Isaac Herzog.

Herzog convened the first meeting on Tuesday evening, March 28, meant to bridge the gaps and find a compromise on judicial reform.

He met with the working teams representing the coalition, Yesh Atid and the National Unity Party for a first dialogue meeting, which was held at the President’s Residence.

In response to Netanyahu pausing the judicial reform, Herzog said “stopping the legislation is the right thing. This is the time to begin a sincere, serious and responsible dialogue that will urgently calm the waters and lower the flames.”

The Israeli president said, “I call on everyone to act responsibly. Protests and demonstrations, on whichever side — yes. Violence — absolutely not! If one side wins, the country will lose. We must remain one people and one country — Jewish and democratic.”

Netanyahu’s announcement was endorsed by several large Jewish organizations. 
 “We welcome the Israeli government’s suspension of legislative consideration of judicial reform measures,” read a joint statement by the American Jewish Committee, JFNA and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“The last three months have been painful to watch and yet a textbook case of democracy in action.

“We respect the political leaders, business executives, community activists, cultural figures and ordinary Israelis who took to the streets, exercising their love of country, and their passion for democracy.”

Bitter feelings were still evident in the prime minister’s speech: Netanyahu said pro-government protesters who turned out on Monday evening were “spontaneous,” “not paid for, not spurred by the media.”

Gantz said, “The prime minister is principally responsible for tearing the country apart.” He also called on Netanyahu to reinstall Gallant.

Netanyahu did not mention Gallant in his address.

Netanyahu said his decision to pause the legislative process was backed by a majority of his coalition.

In December, Netanyahu allied with the Religious Zionist bloc as part of his governing coalition, and one of the its leaders, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, was pressing for quick passage of the reforms.

Itamar Ben Gvir, the national security minister, circulated an agreement signed by himself and Netanyahu to establish a “National Guard” alongside the decision to pause the court reform.

It is not clear how such an entity would function alongside Israel’s already massive security infrastructure, but a report on Kann, Israel’s public broadcaster, said the new initiative would receive a budget of $2.5 billion and operate under Ben-Gvir’s authority.

Ben-Gvir has called for the loosening of open-fire rules in clashes between security forces and Palestinians.
Netanyahu likewise did not mention the agreement with Ben-Gvir in his speech.

“The reform will pass. The national guard will be established. The budget I demanded for the Ministry of National Security will pass in its entirety,” he wrote. “No one will frighten us. No one will be able to change the decision of the people.”

Then, mimicking the central chant of the anti-government protesters, he added: “Repeat after me: De-mo-cra-cy!”

The IJN added to this story.




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