Israel’s Netanyahu suspends judicial overhaul amid protests

Israelis woke up to chaos on Monday, with protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform sweeping the country.

Flights were grounded at Ben Gurion International Airport, and Israeli embassies around the world stopped work in solidarity with demonstrators.

More than 80,000 anti-government protesters gathered outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, according to police sources cited in Haaretz.

Former defense minister and opposition figure Benny Gantz said: “We don’t have another country, we don’t have another homeland. We don’t have another path, but a democratic Jewish country.”

Right-wing figures within Netanyahu’s coalition appeared to be preparing for a long fight.

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Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich joined calls earlier Monday for a counter-demonstration in Jerusalem in support of the judicial reforms.

“Come to Jerusalem,” he said in a statement, according to the Times of Israel.

“We cannot stop the reform aimed at fixing Israel’s justice system and democracy. We must not submit to violence, anarchy, refusal of military service and wildcat strikes.”

The far-right Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, also expressed his support for counter-protests on tipping.

“Today we stop being silent. Today the right wakes up. Spread further,” he wrote, along with a poster with details for the rally outside the Knesset on Monday evening.

Ben-Gvir threatened to resign if the reforms were stopped, but he continued to support the government from the outside.

Netanyahu blinks

By Monday afternoon, however, Netanyahu relented. The Israeli leader announced that he was delaying his government’s controversial overhaul of the country’s courts.

“Due to a sense of national responsibility, out of a will to prevent a rupture among our people, I decided to suspend the second and third reading of the bill,” he told the country’s legislature.

Ben Gvir agreed with the delay of the return for allowing the creation of a “national guard” that would be loyal to his ministry.

Live: Netanyahu delays judicial reform after being hit by Israel

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Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian analyst based in the Israeli city of Haifa, told Middle East Eye that Netanyahu’s commitment to Ben-Gvir as a “national guard” was a bigger victory for the far-right than the reforms themselves.

He said that the national guard, which Ben-Gvir claims is needed to increase security throughout Israel and would be loyal to his national security ministry, would have an “ideological” hostility to Palestinian citizens in Israel.

Netanyahu’s opponents welcomed the move. Israel’s opposition leader, Yair Lapid, said he was ready for dialogue, but only if the government’s announced truce was true.

“If the legislation really and completely stops, we are ready to engage in a real dialogue,” he said in a televised address, but he wanted to be sure “there is no bluff or bluff” on Netanyahu’s part.

US asks for compromise

Israel’s main labor union also called off a national strike on Monday night, with Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, praising Netanyahu for the move and offering to help broker a compromise reform.

The break comes as many warned that Israel was on the verge of civil conflict. Earlier on Monday, Israel’s army chief warned that “a storm is brewing at home” as thousands of military reservists threatened not to serve in the army if the reform is successful.

The White House said it welcomed the delay to proceed with the reform and urged the Israeli parties to leave room for compromise.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters, however, that the United States remained concerned about the situation in Israel, adding that Biden was “very sympathetic” to Netanyahu about his concerns.

Across Israel, the tension between pro-government and anti-government protesters was still visible. MEE saw the two sides confronting each other at Tel Aviv’s Azrieli junction, the main protest hub.

Several hundred right-wing protesters gathered at the junction to show support for the judicial reforms, carrying signs that said “the left are traitors”.

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