Netanyahu promises ‘responsible judicial reforms’ after summoning Defence minister

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  March 23, 2023

Israeli Defence minister Yoav Gallant was expected to call for a halt to judicial reforms, but deferred remarks as Netanyahu delivered address.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a televised speech on Thursday evening that he is determined to proceed with “responsible judicial reforms”, after he summoned Yoav Gallant, ahead of a public intervention where the Defence minister was expected to call for a halt to the government’s highly controversial judicial overhaul.

“We cannot allow any dispute to endanger our collective future,” Netanyahu said during his address. “I will do everything to calm the situation and bring cohesion.”

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid urged ‘responsible members’ of Netanyahu’s party to rebel against the planned overhaul. 

Gallant confirmed media reports that he had planned to deliver public remarks, but then said he was deferring his speech because Netanyahu would be delivering an address.

After being summoned to a meeting with the prime minister, Gallant briefed Netanyahu on the impact the government’s contested judicial overhaul was having on national security, according to a statement by the Defence ministry.

Netanyahu has reportedly delayed his flight to London on Thursday evening, amid unprecedented nationwide protests against the government’s overhaul plan.

Public broadcaster Kan reported earlier in the day that Gallant was expected to call for a halt to the reforms following a meeting between Netanyahu and the military chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, who warned of terrible consequences if the bills are passed. Gallant is also believed to have consulted with Benny Gantz, the opposition politician and ex-military chief who served as Defence minister before him.

According to Kan, Justice Minister Yariv Levin told Netanyahu’s office he would resign if the reforms are stopped.

Israel has been rocked in recent weeks by mass opposition to a raft of legislation being pushed through by Netanyahu’s government, which is aimed at overriding the authority of the courts.

Hundreds of thousands of people have hit the streets in protest across Israel, most recently on Thursday as the first piece of legislation was passed in its entirety by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Among the protesters have been several members of the Israeli military, including air force pilot reservists.

Their threats to withdraw from service have sparked fears that Israel’s military and security could be badly weakened, a concern that last week led to Gallant calling for a compromise to be found over the judicial reforms.

Kan reported that around half of MPs from Netanyahu’s Likud party are keen to freeze the reforms, fearing the backlash, with one MP telling the broadcaster: “They wanted the reform but were not ready to pay its price.”

Galit Distel Atbaryan, Israel’s public security minister, called on any MPs who do not want to continue the reforms to resign. 

Earlier on Thursday, Israeli MPs approved a bill that shields Netanyahu from being declared unfit for office by the attorney general. After the vote, hundreds of thousands of Israelis marched through Jerusalem, with some blocking a highway and clashing with police. At least 40 demonstrators were arrested.

“The water cannons, the arrests and the police violence just motivates me to protest even more, and it will be the same for the other protesters,” Shai Harel, a protester blocking the Ayalon highway, told Middle East Eye.