Israel’s judicial overhaul, which has sparked massive outcry and protests, is being put on hold, Israel’s national security minister announced Monday.
Itamar Ben Gvir, a member of the far-right Jewish Power party, said in a statement the pause will last until the next session of the Knesset. Ben Gvir said he still plans to bring the bill to a vote in April after the legislature's Passover recess.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed in a speech that the overhaul is on pause, but that he will seek a compromise.
“We will not give up… but we will try to get to find a broad agreement,” Netanyahu said Monday.
The prime minister urged calm in the interim, asking his supporters to “continue to behave responsibility and don’t get dragged into any provocations.”
Netanyahu has been facing mounting pressure to put a stop to his plan to reform the country’s judicial system. Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, was the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out about the potential plans when he spoke out in recent days calling for them to be halted. In response to the challenge, however, Netanyahu fired him Sunday, sparking renewed anger and a surge of strikes over the plans.
Tel Aviv, today. Estimated as the largest protest in the history of Israel pic.twitter.com/2CEGz4cl2b
— Danel Lushi (@DanelLushi) March 25, 2023
The bill would give Israel’s legislative body the power to overrule the Supreme Court’s decisions by a simple majority and dramatically increase politicians’ power to appoint justices.
Critics have called the law a move toward “dictatorship,” while its supporters in the government have heralded it as a much-needed reform.
John Kirby, the White House National Security Council Coordinator said in a call Monday the proposal “flies in the face of the whole idea of checks and balances,” later adding that U.S. President Joe Biden does not expect the situation in Israel “to devolve into civil war.”
On Monday, hundreds of thousands Israelis turned out in cities across the country, as workers from airports to universities and McDonald’s franchises walked off the job.
Hours before his coalition partner announced he was backing down, Netanyahu attempted to calm the unrest.
“I call on all the demonstrators in Jerusalem, on the right and the left, to behave responsibly and not to act violently. We are brotherly people,” he said in a tweet.
At the same time, Ben Gvir and the far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich urged their own followers to take to the street in support of the reform.
“Do not give in to violence, to anarchy, to objectors and wild strikes. We are the majority—let's make our voice heard,” Smotrich said in a video message to supporters.
The President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, has also called for an immediate stop to the plans. Israel’s Consul General in New York Asaf Zamir announced his resignation following the decision to fire the defense minister for challenging Netanyahu. Zamir called on other Israeli envoys to also protest the firing.
Ehud Barak, a former Israeli prime minister, levied a scathing critique at Netanyahu, in whose cabinet he once served.
“We call it regime change from top down. They are trying to make Israel a dictatorship. We are not going to accept it. This is not going to fit into our basic values and collective psyche,” Barak said.