In a big jolt to Israel PM Netanyahu, Defence min calls to halt ‘judicial reforms’

If the four decide to vote against the proposals then the government will not have the majority required to pass the legislation.

Jerusalem: Yielding to unprecedented protests, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday called upon the government to stop the controversial judicial overhaul legislation sticking his neck out amid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence to go ahead with the suggested “reforms”.

“The security of the State of Israel is my life’s mission. Over the course of my entire adult life I have dealt with Israel’s security day in and day out. Clothed in the IDF’s (Israel Defence Forces) uniform, I have risked my life dozens of times for the State of Israel. And at this time, for the sake of our country, I am willing to take any risk and pay any price”, Gallant said in a televised speech.

“I declare loudly and publicly, for the sake of Israel’s security, for the sake of our sons and daughters the legislative process should be stopped”, he asserted, pointing to the visible diminishing morale of the army he could sense that is endangering Israel’s security and unity.

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Thousands of soldiers, including in critical divisions of the army, had called to stop reporting for reserve duty amid the ongoing judicial overhaul process stressing that it poses a grave danger to Israel’s democracy and could turn it into a dictatorship.

Reluctant legislators in the ruling Likud party had so far shied away from expressing their opposition to the proposed “reforms”, which have led to massive unrest drawing hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets for three months now, fearing a backlash from party members and potential political costs associated with defying the party leader and its position.

However, Gallant’s defiant call seemed to galvanise other conscientious leaders in the party with three more, Yuli Edelstein, David Bitan and Avi Dichter, coming forward to demand to stall the process.

Edelstein, who is the chair of the Knesset’s (Israeli parliament) powerful Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, thanked Gallant for “joining the path I’ve been leading for weeks”.

“The majority of the people want and understand the need for changes in the judicial system, but this must be done with patience, dialogue, and broad discourse in order to reach a broad consensus,” he said in a statement.

If the four decide to vote against the proposals then the government will not have the majority required to pass the legislation.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis opposed to the government’s legislative blitz to curb the judiciary’s powers have been taking to the streets for 12 straight weeks.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s proposals to shake up the judiciary by severely curbing the High Court of Justice’s judicial review powers and the government’s efforts to cement political control over the appointment of judges have met with resistance not only in the streets of the country but also abroad with thousands of Jewish diaspora members protesting during Netanyahu’s visits to Italy, Germany and UK.

Speaking at the main rally Saturday evening in Tel Aviv, renowned historian Yuval Noah Harari said that the civil servants and military forces must obey the courts and not the government, should Israel end up in a constitutional crisis.

Holding Netanyahu responsible “for all that is happening”, Harari said that “you are not an emissary. You are definitely not an angel. After 2,000 years, we still remember the pharaoh. And we will remember you. There’ll be no streets, squares or airports named after you. But we will tell the story of the man who tried to enslave us and failed”.

“You are surrounded by people with no backbone. But we have backbones…We will not be slaves. Next year we will be free people,” he emphasised.

With legislations that many argue are aimed at establishing the executive’s supremacy over the judiciary, making it subservient to the government, slated to come for the final readings the coming week in the Knesset, the protests have also been peaking and the country seems somewhat paralysed.

Internal differences within Israeli society have also intensified recently with the country looking broadly divided into two large blocs over judicial overhaul.

Though the current governing coalition has committed to several controversial legislation, the biggest debate revolves around its push to increase political control over the judiciary.

Three key proposals being discussed are a move to legislate an “override clause” by which the Knesset can reinstate any law invalidated by the Supreme Court, put judicial appointments under political control as opposed to the current hybrid political-professional-judicial appointments panel, and split the role of the Attorney General as both the head of the state prosecution and the government’s legal adviser.

Analysts feel that the controversial steps proposed to emanate from the desire to protect Netanyahu, who is facing trial in three different cases, but altogether it serves the interest of all those included in the coalition in some way by addressing each party’s concerns.

Seen at the receiving end of international ire, including a rebuke from US President Joe Biden, Netanyahu has looked weak and perplexed but hesitant to step back from the proposed “reforms” because of fear of losing control of his ruling Likud party.

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