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Israel protest leaders vow to keep pressure on government until judicial reform shelved entirely

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan near his residencet in Jerusalem, Monday, March 27, 2023.
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan near his residencet in Jerusalem, Monday, March 27, 2023. Copyright AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg
Copyright AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg
By Euronews with AP
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Netanyahu postpones vote on controversial judicial reforms for 'further dialogue'

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Demonstrations in Israel continued into the night on Monday, capping a day of unprecedented nationwide strikes that paralysed the country and pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into suspending his controversial plans to reform Israel's judiciary. Weeks of mass protests have tipped the country into its most severe domestic crisis in years.

Earlier on Monday,  Netanyahu broadcast to the nation he was 'pausing' the plan. The embattled leader blamed an "extremist minority" for the protests and said that he is "not ready to divide Israel into pieces." Netanyahu also said he is "taking time for further dialogue."

"From a national responsibility, from the will to avoid the rift within the people, I decided to suspend the second and third reading from the law in this Knesset tenure in order to give time to get to a broad consensus to pass the legislation during the next Knesset," he said during his short televised address.

After Netanyahu's announcement, pro- and anti-government protesters faced off in Tel Aviv and despite his concession, protest leaders have called for demonstrations to continue until he shelves the judicial legislation entirely.

Nationwide protests and international condemnation

The overhaul, which has sparked widespread protests and international condemnation, will not now be discussed in parliament until next month, said coalition member party Jewish Power earlier. 

Netanyahu’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, said on Monday that the government's plan to overhaul the judiciary was being put on hold until the parliament's summer session, which begins on April 30. 

America's Biden administration, which has been uneasy with Netanyahu and the far-right elements of his government, welcomed the announcement as “an opportunity to create additional time and space for compromise,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Tens of thousands of people have repeatedly taken to the streets against the plan — including spontaneous mass demonstrations that erupted across the country late Sunday after Netanyahu fired his defence minister for questioning the overhaul.

Yoav Gallant had been the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out against the government's plan, saying the deep divisions were threatening to weaken the military. In a brief statement, Netanyahu’s office said late Sunday the prime minister had dismissed Gallant. 

Netanyahu later tweeted, “We must all stand strong against refusal.”

The controversial changes would give the governing coalition control over judicial appointments and weaken the country's Supreme Court by granting parliament the authority to overturn its decisions and limiting judicial review of laws. 

Opponents say the overhaul would upend the country’s delicate system of checks and balances by giving Netanyahu's ruling coalition control over what is now an independent judiciary.

The government says the legal changes are necessary to streamline governance in the face of an interventionist judiciary.

AP Photo
Israeli police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators blocking a highway during a protestAP Photo

Nationwide strike

Earlier on Monday, protesters demonstrated outside Israel's Parliament and workers launched a nationwide strike aimed at halting the overhaul. 

The chaos shut down much of the country and threatened to paralyze the economy. Departing flights from the main international airport were grounded. 

Large mall chains and universities closed their doors, and Israel's largest trade union called for its 800,000 members to stop work in health care, transit, banking and other fields.

Protesters in Tel Aviv blocked a main highway and lit large bonfires, while protesters gathered outside Netanyahu’s private home in Jerusalem. 

Police scuffled with protesters and sprayed the crowd with a water cannon. Thousands then marched from the residence to the Knesset.

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