Netanyahu Pauses Judiciary Reform Until Next Knesset Session, Nationwide Strikes End

By Matis Glenn

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Monday evening that the government will hold off on proceeding with judicial reform legislation until the next Knesset session, granting time to hold negotiations after two days of political turmoil.

“Out of national responsibility, I decided to suspend the second and third readings to give time to reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said in an address Monday night to the country.

Tensions in Israel hit a fever pitch Sunday, when Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after the latter broke party ranks and voiced his opposition to advancing the judiciary reforms.

Protests erupted in the streets of Yerushalayim and Tel-Aviv; universities suspended classes, the Histadrut labor union called for an economic strike, which was heeded by malls, airports, manufacturers and other businesses. Local municipalities in Yerushalayim, Tel-Aviv, Haifa and other cities went on strike, together with the Israeli General Consulate office in New York; Sunday, Consul General Asaf Zamir issued his resignation and returned to Israel.

“I am aware of the enormous tension that is building up between the two camps, between the two parts of the people,” Netanyahu said in his speech. “and I am attentive to the desire of many citizens to relieve this tension.”

Netanyahu went on to condemn the violence that had erupted Sunday.

“But there is one thing I am not willing to accept. There is an extreme minority that is ready to tear our country apart. He uses violence, sets fires, threatens to harm elected officials, incites civil war, and calls disobedience a terrible crime.”

Netanyahu said he is committed to negotiations. “I am not ready to tear the nation apart. For three months, I read over and over again the conversations, and I also said that I would turn over every stone to reach a solution. Because I remember, we remember, that we are not facing enemies. We stand in front of brothers.”

President Yitzchak Herzog, who had called for a pause recently, welcomed the news. “Stopping the legislation is the right thing. This is the time to start an honest, serious and responsible conversation that will urgently calm the spirits and lower the flames,” he said in a statement.

Religious Zionism, a key member of the coalition which pushed for the reforms, expressed their reaction.

“We thought and we still believe that the decision to stop the legislation and the reform because of threats of refusal, anarchy and wildcat strikes is a mistake,” the party said in a statement.

“At the same time, we respect the Prime Minister’s decision and support him as the leader of the national camp, and we are committed to the continued existence of the government…We will continue, with G-d’s help, and with the help of the majority of the people who support this, to advance the reforms in the justice system as we committed before the elections and we will bring about the necessary change to return power to the people and correct the injustices of the justice system.”

Netanyahu’s opponents, however, had mixed reactions.

“These are terrible days, from which we must come out strengthened and united,” National Union head Benny Gantz said. “I stood here a few weeks ago and said that we might end up in a civil war, and that Netanyahu would bear the responsibility. I welcome his decision to stop…better late than never.”
Gantz went on to call on Netanyahu to reinstate Gallant, saying that his position is critical to the safety of the state.

Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid said: “If the legislation does stop, a real and absolute stop. We are ready to go to the president for talks.”

Others were cynical of Netanyahu’s intentions.

“The Prime Minister’s speech proves that Netanyahu is more determined than ever to complete all the legislation, including the Basic Law of the Judiciary and taking over the Supreme Court,” MK Avigdor Lieberman, of Yisrael Beiteinu said. “He has no intention of promoting real negotiations, but his intention is to wait for a convenient time…That is why we must continue the protest…”

After Netanyahu’s speech, Histadrut head Yaniv Levi congratulated Netanyahu and said that strikes would end. “I congratulate the Prime Minister for stopping the legislative process and choosing the unity of the people. I will be the first to assist Prime Minister Netanyahu, in leading negotiations to create a reform that will be formulated by mutual agreement between the parties, and will bring about the unification of the divisions in the nation,” Levi said.

Chaim Bibs, Chairman of the Local Government Center said: “The Prime Minister made the right decision. With the delay of the legislation, this is the time for the fusion of the rifts that have opened in the nation and for a negotiation process that will lead to extensive agreements.”

Dr. Ron Tomer, President of the Federation of Manufacturers and Chairman of the Employers and Business Presidency, announced that he welcomes the Prime Minister’s decision to stop the legislative process.

El-Al announced that after the strikes were cancelled “Tonight all flights will depart as planned to the following destinations: All US destinations, Thailand – Bangkok and Phuket, Johannesburg, Thessaloniki, Bucharest, Vienna, Tbilisi. Also, all flights tomorrow will depart according to the planned schedules. It is recommended to arrive early and arrive at the field about three hours before the flight.”

While Justice Minister Yariv Levin maintained Sunday night that he would not support a pause – and was joined by MKs and ministers in Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism – word spread of Netanyahu’s possible decision to halt the proceedings late Sunday night. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir initially had threatened to leave the coalition; a move which could have dissolved the government. United Torah Judaism and Shas both said that they would support whichever decision Netanyahu would make on the issue.

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