Netanyahu under pressure from protests to block judicial reform bill

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JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced mounting pressure on Monday to halt his government’s push to overhaul Israel’s court system, as a national backlash against the plan threatened to plunge the country into chaos.

Israeli universities, labor unions and hospitals announced a general strike, and the international airport began suspending outbound flights. Local council leaders gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s residence to begin a hunger strike.

Netanyahu will make a public statement on Monday morning, local media said, amid calls for Netanyahu to step down from government, business and opposition parties, including Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Netanyahu’s longtime lawyer.

Netanyahu sacked the defense minister who called for the judicial overhaul to be halted

The announcement was postponed after sources in his party said Netanyahu was ready to bow to pressure. One of his far-right allies, Defense Minister Itamar Ben-Ghir, warned the prime minister in a tweet to “not surrender to anarchy.”

The spreading chaos came the morning after Netanyahu fired his defense minister, the first member of his cabinet to break from the coalition and call for an end to the judiciary law. The night-time removal rocked a country already in turmoil, raising the backlash to a terrifying pitch.

Within minutes, protesters took to the streets across the country, vowing to escalate demonstrations and general strikes until legislative action was shut down. Police clashed with protesters in several places, using water cannon, cavalry and unconventional offensive tactics to push back thousands of demonstrators who had blocked the Ayalon highway and gathered outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence.

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Israel’s consul general in New York resigned in a tweet, and ceremonial President Herzog pleaded with the prime minister and the coalition to end their legislative push with the nation on the brink of disaster.

“Security, the economy, society, everything is under threat,” Herzog said in a statement. “The eyes of all the people of Israel are turned toward you.”

Israeli media reported Monday morning that Netanyahu’s lawyer and confidante, Boaz Ben Zur, told the prime minister that he would not continue to appear in his corruption trial.

Hardliners in Netanyahu’s coalition — which includes ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist immigration parties — have continued to advance the law despite growing opposition. On Monday, hours before Netanyahu was due to speak, a parliamentary committee passed a key part of the plan, which would have given the coalition more control over the selection of judges.

“We don’t need to destroy the country,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said at the start of his party’s meeting in the Knesset on Monday morning, in which he called on Netanyahu to suspend the law and enter negotiations under the president’s supervision. .

The coalition’s judicial overhaul package would give them more power to choose judges, including those presiding over Netanyahu’s corruption trial, in which he faces prison terms in three separate cases. Supporters say the changes have long been needed by Israel’s growing right, as the courts have become too powerful at the expense of elected officials and hopelessly biased toward the country’s leftist elite.

Opponents say the moves are an attempt to remove the only check on the coalition’s power, which could allow radical changes in society and tilt the country toward dictatorship.

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The plan, announced without warning after Netanyahu’s new government came to power at the end of December, forced the country to confront lingering questions about whether to prioritize its democratic character or its Jewish character.

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