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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As Israeli protests multiply, Netanyahu delays reform announcement

Protesters gather with national flags outside Israel's parliament in Jerusalem amid ongoing demonstrations and calls for a general strike against the hard-right government's controversial push to overhaul the justice system, on March 27, 2023.   (AHMAD GHARABLI/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Sara Lemel,</p><p>Marc Kapidis</p><p>and Christina Storz german press agency

TEL AVIV, Israel – With mass protests, a general strike and the army on alert, Israel’s political crisis escalated further on Monday, following the dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over his criticism of a highly controversial judicial reform.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Gallant on Sunday because of his call to stop the judicial reform. On Saturday evening, Gallant called on the government to engage in dialogue with critics.

The anger over Netanyahu, the dismissal and the reform plans of his right-wing religious government was evident on Israeli streets, with demonstrators blocking the central road to Jerusalem with Israeli flags on Sunday, and setting tires alight.

Police used horseback riders and water cannon against the crowd, as people threw stones at officers. In Jerusalem, angry protesters broke through a roadblock next to Netanyahu’s residence. The head of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency went there later that night.

Universities announced a temporary halt to classes in protest against Gallant’s dismissal and the reform plans. Several mayors went on hunger strike, demanding an immediate containment of the national crisis.

Continued protests on Monday affected the country’s international airport in Tel Aviv after a trade union umbrella organization called for an “historic” general strike. Tens of thousands are expected to be affected by the flight changes.

In view of the escalating crisis, Netanyahu held an emergency meeting on how to proceed. He is said to have discussed a possible suspension of the reform project with coalition politicians.

The report said Netanyahu planned to address the nation on Monday. But later reports said the speech was delayed reportedly due to a dispute within the coalition.

According to reports, several ministers announced their intention to resign if Netanyahu announced a halt to the reform. His coalition has 64 of the 120 seats, with 61 seats needed for a majority.

Gallant had warned that national security, and in particular the operational capability of the army, was at stake. For weeks, there has been talk of growing discontent in the military, with numerous reservists failing to show up for duty in protest against the reform.

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel was in the greatest danger since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Arab states unexpectedly attacked Israel on the most important Jewish holiday. Bennett called on Netanyahu to rescind Gallant’s dismissal, suspend the reform and start a dialogue with opponents.

Security experts warn that Israel’s enemies – above all Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and militant Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip – could use the opportunity to attack the country, which has been weakened by the crisis.

Opposition politicians Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz issued a joint statement calling on Netanyahu’s party colleagues “not to participate in the destruction of national security,” saying the head of government had “crossed a red line.”

The plans are also triggering criticism internationally. The US government, as the nation’s most important ally, has expressed deep concern. In view of the planned “fundamental changes to a democratic system,” the White House urged the Israeli leadership to find a compromise as soon as possible.

Despite the protests, a core element of the controversial reform cleared another hurdle Monday morning when a bill that would change the composition of the judges’ election committee passed a key committee and was referred to the plenary for a final reading. The amendment would give the government a majority in the body and thus considerable influence on the appointment of judges.

The government accuses the Supreme Court of insubordinate interference in political decisions. In the future, parliament will be able to overturn decisions of the Supreme Court with a simple majority.

The prime minister is to be given greater protection against impeachment. Critics see the separation of powers in danger, some have even warned against what they described as the creeping introduction of a dictatorship.