Police detain a protester during a rally against the judical overhaul plan in Jerusalem, Israel, 27 March 2023. EFE/EPA/ATEF SAFADI

Netanyahu delays controversial justice reforms after huge protests in Israel

Jerusalem, Mar 27 (EFE).- The Israeli government has agreed to delay a planned overhaul of the justice system, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, after a day of massive protests and strikes.

The right-wing coalition government’s controversial reforms have triggered the largest protests in Israel’s history, with tens of thousands of people, including opposition leader Benny Gantz, gathering outside parliament on Monday, as riot police were deployed to control the crowd.

A pro-government counter-demonstration organized by far-right groups was also held in the area around the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Israeli Right-wing government supporters and anti-government protesters gather outside the Knesset (the Parliament), ahead of mass protests in Jerusalem, Israel, 27 March 2023. EFE/EPA/ATEF SAFADI

“Out of national responsibility, I have decided to suspend the second and third readings of the law (on the selection of judges) in this session of the Knesset to allow time to try to reach a broad agreement, in preparation for the legislation during the next parliamentary session,” the prime minister said in a televised address. 

The Knesset will recess next week for Passover, a major Jewish holiday, and will reconvene on April 30.

Netanyahu had been under pressure from his far-right and ultra-religious coalition partners to push the legislation through parliament despite the intense public anger over the planned judicial overhaul. 

The leader of the Jewish Power party and Minister for National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir – one of the reform’s strongest backers – said he had agreed to delay its implementation after Netanyahu agreed to establish a “national guard” under Ben Gvir’s control.

“The reform will pass,” he said on Twitter. “No one will scare us. No one will succeed in changing the people’s decision.”

Protesters gather outside the Knesset ahead of mass protests in Jerusalem, Israel, 27 March 2023. EFE/EPA/ABIR SULTAN

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis protested on Sunday over the weekend after Netanyahu sacked defense minister Yoan Gallant, who spoke out against the reforms that would allow a simple majority of the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court decisions and give politicians effective control over judicial appointments.

Critics say the overhaul threatens the country’s democracy because it undermines the independence of the judiciary.

Last week, Israeli president Issac Herzog warned the country was at risk of civil war over the issue, and on Monday urged Netanyahu to “immediately” drop the reforms due to public anger.

“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” Herzog said on Twitter after Sunday night’s demonstrations, the biggest in the country’s history.

He said there was “deep concern” across the nation over Israel’s security, economy and society. 

“All are threatened,” Herzog warned.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) attends a voting session in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, Israel, 27 March 2023. EFE/EPA/ABIR SULTAN

Flights at Israel’s main airport were all grounded on Monday after the Workers’ Union called an indefinite strike, while the General Organization of Workers in Israel, the country’s largest union, also announced a general strike across a swathe of sectors.

Municipal authorities, health centers, shopping centers, and workers in the high-tech sector announced that they would be joining the strike, while universities remained closed.

Netanyahu’s opponents have already said that they are not content with the reforms being delayed. They intend to continue the protests until the legislation is dropped and a new reform that is supported by the opposition is proposed. EFE