Sunday night was busy for the riot police in Israel as they try to either disperse or calm down the thousands of angry Israelis. But why were they angry? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just announced the sack of the country’s defence minister Yoav Gallant after he called for a halt in the planned judicial overhaul.
“For the security of Israel, for the sake of our sons and daughters: We need to stop the legislative process at this time,” Mr Gallant said in a video statement. “We need to stop the demonstrations and protests — and reach out for dialogue. Any manifestation of refusal that eats away at the strength of the IDF and harms the security system should be stopped immediately.”
Mr Gallant said a pause in the judicial overhaul would also allow citizens to celebrate the Passover and mourn together on Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day. He concluded that for the sake of the country, he was “willing to take any risk and pay any price” to return peace to the country.
The price for such a statement was an immediate sack by Prime minister Netanyahu, who did not state the reason for the sack nor name a replacement.
Gallant’s sack was the red line
Following Gallant’s sack, Jerusalem reacted, and Tel Aviv could not hold itself because, for the past months, they have been demanding what Mr Gallant just asked for. Netanyahu’s planned overhaul of the judiciary has been seen by many as a threat to the country’s democracy. Thousands every week have staged several protests calling for the government to immediately halt its plan to weaken the powers of the Supreme Court.
The government led by Netanyahu has refused to listen to the demands, but reports coming in from Tel Aviv as of Monday morning show that the government could be forced to listen to the demands of the protesters after it became difficult to handle the uprising that took place on Sunday night.
Already, Universities and trade unions have announced strike actions until the government agree to halt the planned judicial overhaul. Some members of Israel’s Defence Forces reservists have refused to train because of the controversial bill, and many have opined that it could be the reason behind Gallant’s call for a halt in the process.
Interestingly, Yoav Gallant is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party and the first minister to speak up against the reform. However, following his controversial statement, other cabinet members of the Israeli government have spoken up, also calling for either a delay or a halt of the judicial reform.
Amichai Chikli, the country’s minister for Diaspora Affairs and Social Equality, was among the first to call for the suspension of the judicial overhaul. Others that have added their voices are Miki Zohar, minister for culture and sports, and Nir Barkat, minister for Economy, who warned that the plan to overhaul the judiciary had brought Israel to the brink of a civil war. Israel’s Consul General in New York, Asaf Zamir, went a step further than his colleagues and tendered his resignation following Netanyahu’s decision to fire Yoav Gallant. All ministers that expressed their concerns were members of the ruling Lukid party.
Israel gradually shutting down
On Monday morning, the over 70,000 passengers that were supposed to use the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv were stuck after workers refused to show up for work in protest of the government’s recent decisions. Like the airport in Tel Aviv, several people across the country have refused to report to work after the country’s largest workers union announced an industrial action.
Israel’s President refused to be ceremonial, speaks on Judicial reform
You probably have not heard about the President of Israel. That is because his role is ceremonial, and his government interference is minimal. However, since the planned judicial reform, Mr Isaac Herzog has refused to remain ceremonial, describing the legislation as “misguided, brutal and undermines our democratic foundations,” and warned that it could lead to a civil war in the country.
Following the decision to sack the Defense Minister, Mr Herzog was on the stage again, calling on the prime minister to come back to his senses, as this was not the time for politics but a time for leadership.
“I turn to the Prime Minister, members of the government and members of the coalition: the feelings are hard and painful. Deep concern hovers over the entire nation. Security, economy, society — everyone is threatened. The eyes of all the people of Israel are on you. The eyes of all the Jewish people are on you. The eyes of the whole world are on you,” Herzog said on Monday.
“For the sake of the unity of Israelis, for the sake of committed responsibility, I call on you to halt the legislative procedure immediately,” the president continued. “Come to your senses now! This is not a political moment, this is a moment for leadership and responsibility.”
The former prime ministers add their voices
Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has also called for an immediate suspension of the judicial reform and to enter into a dialogue with all parties involved. Mr Bennett also called for the reinstatement of Yoav Gallant as defence minister.
“I call on the Prime Minister to withdraw Gallant’s letter of dismissal, suspend the reform, and enter into a lull of negotiation until after Independence Day,” Bennett tweeted. “It doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong. I call on all the demonstrators and all Israeli citizens — to do everything without violence, without bloodshed. We are brothers.”
Unlike Bennett, the immediate past prime minister of Israel Yair Lapid, could not take it lightly with Netanyahu’s government. He said Israel has been hijacked by “a bunch of extremists with no brakes and no boundaries,” adding that what has happened in the last 24 hours was madness and a “loss of control and a loss of direction.”
He insisted that everything was falling apart for the country and that unless the government takes decisive action on the issue, the country would be gone.
“It’s almost too late, but it isn’t too late yet. There are enough decent people in the Likud who can and should stop this madness,” he said.
“Our national security is at risk, our economy is crumbling, our foreign relations are at their lowest point ever, we don’t know what to say to our children about their future in this country,” Lapid added.
Is the judicial reform that bad?
It is normal to amend laws in every country. But why is the decision by the Knesset so controversial? For one reason. If the judicial overhaul goes through, the Israeli parliament would have more powers than the country’s supreme court. The parliament would have powers to overturn decisions made by the country’s apex court and even amend how judges are appointed.
There is no written constitution in Israel. That alone has given the supreme court so much power to decide what becomes a law in the country. Rightfully, the Supreme Court has so much power, which has led many to call for a reform in the country’s judiciary, but not to the extent the coalition government is going. It is also noteworthy that the only body that checks the power of the parliament is the Supreme court. Should the proposed reforms go through, the parliament could become infallible, a move that citizens feel would be detrimental to the country.
Netanyahu and his men, in defence of the reform, have argued that the Supreme court has ruled on issues it should not have ruled on and has overstepped its role. They insist that it was not representing the interest of the Israeli people.
However, with the current situation, it is unlikely that the reform will go through, and Netanyahu and his party might soon announce the withdrawal of the legislation, as top party members are already calling for a review of the proposed amendments.