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Israeli defence minister calls for halt to judicial overhaul

2023-03-25T20:11:39Z

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant attends a news conference with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, Israel, March 9, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday called on the government to halt legislation on changes to the judiciary, saying the bitter dispute over the measures poses a danger to national security.

“The deepening split is seeping into the military and defence institutions – this is a clear, immediate and real danger to Israel’s security,” Gallant said in a brief televised statement.

Gallant’s call drew support from at least two fellow Likud party lawmakers, Yuli Edelstein and David Bitan, who said reforms should be made with broad agreement.

It was unclear whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wrapping up a visit to London and aiming to finalise legislation on at least one bill in the coming week, would heed their call.

Netanyahu – on trial for corruption, which he denies – is under pressure from others in his ruling coalition who want him to proceed this week with a bill that would grant them more sway in selecting judges.

Far-right police minister Itamar Ben-Gvir urged Netanyahu to fire Gallant, who he said had caved to opposition pressure.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid praised Gallant’s “brave step” and said he was ready for talks on the reforms once the government stops the legislation.

Gallant said he supported reforming the justice system but this must be done with broad agreement. But with a solid 64-seat majority in parliament, the coalition would still have enough votes without him.

The defence chief has previously voiced worries about a wave of Israelis who have pledged not to heed call-ups for military reserve duty if the reforms proceed, saying that could weaken war-readiness and national cohesion.

The judicial overhaul plan, announced on Jan. 4, has plunged Israel into its worst political crises in years, as mass protests have swept the country.

It has also stirred concern abroad and warnings about a serious economic backlash.

Despite Netanyahu’s pledge this week to enshrine civil rights in law and defer some chapters of the overhaul during parliament’s April recess, opposition does not seem to have weakened.

Israeli media said around 200,000 Israelis rallied against the plan in Tel Aviv on Saturday, with tens of thousands more across the country.

“I am fighting for the future of my country as I know it. I grew up in the Soviet Union, I know exactly what it means to live in a dictatorship regime. I will do everything in my power, to prevent my country from becoming one,” said Tel Aviv protester Janna Gur, 64.

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