June 3, 2023

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The Israeli Defense Minister calls for stopping judicial reform

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called on the government on Saturday to halt legislation to overhaul the judiciary, saying the bitter dispute over the procedures posed a threat to national security.

“The deep division seeps into the military and defense institutions,” Gallant said in a brief televised statement. “This is a clear, immediate and real danger to Israel’s security.”

Gallant’s call was supported by at least two of his fellow Likud parliamentarians, Yuli Edelstein and David Bitan, who said the reforms must take place with broad agreement.

It was not clear whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has just wrapped up a visit to London and aims to finalize legislation on at least one bill next week, would heed their call.

Netanyahu — who is on trial for corruption, which he denies — is under pressure from others in his ruling coalition who want him to move forward this week with a bill that would give them more influence in choosing judges.

Far-right Police Minister Itamar Ben Gvir urged Netanyahu to sack Galant, who he said had bowed to opposition pressure.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid praised Gallant’s “courageous step” and said he was ready to hold talks on reforms once the government halted the legislation.

Gallant said he was in favor of reforming the judicial system, but it had to be done with broad consensus. But with a solid 64-seat majority in parliament, the coalition would still have enough votes without him.

The defense minister has previously expressed concerns about a wave of Israelis pledging not to respond to call-ups for military reserve service if reforms continue, saying it could weaken preparation for war and national cohesion.

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The judicial reform plan, announced on January 4, has plunged Israel into its worst political crisis in years, as mass protests swept the country.

It also raised concerns abroad and warnings of a dangerous economic backlash.

Despite Netanyahu’s pledge this week to enshrine civil rights in law and to delay some chapters of reform during parliament’s April recess, the opposition appears not to have waned.

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

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

Additional reporting by Rami Amichai in Tel Aviv. Written by Maayan Lubel. Editing by Andrew Heavens and Giles Elgood

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