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Judicial reform in Israel: is Netanyahu just playing for time?


Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has put his government’s controversial judicial reform on hold for the time being. But the project is not off the table. And not only the opposition does not trust the announcement.

By Jan-Christoph Kitzler, ARD Studio Tel Aviv

Benjamin Netanyahu is slowing down. Many in Israel had been waiting for this news. Again tens of thousands took to the streets throughout the day and evening to protest against the controversial judicial reform.

The protests had intensified again because the day before Netanyahu had fired the defense minister who had called for the reform to be stopped. In addition, the governing coalition had actually planned to bring decisive parts of the reform through the plenary this week before the parliamentary break. Netanyahu only made his statement in the evening.

“If there is a chance to prevent a civil war through dialogue, as prime minister I’ll take the time out for dialogue,” Netanyahu said. At the same time, however, he made it clear: “We insist on the need to make corrections to the legal system and will give the opportunity to achieve them with a broad consensus. And out of this national responsibility, I have decided to hold the second and third reading of the legislative package in this to suspend the session.”

Opposition reacts frostily to Netanyahu’s offer of talks

This does not yet say whether there will also be substantive concessions – or whether Netanyahu is only playing for time. He announced that he would seek talks with the opposition in order to gain more acceptance for the reform. But there have been announcements of this kind in the past. Justice Minister Levin is quoted in the Israeli media as saying: “We have to be smart – we’ll get the reform through later.” Opposition leader Yair Lapid reacted accordingly frostily:

If Netanyahu tries to trick us, he will again find many patriotic Israelis determined to fight for our democracy. On the other hand, if the government is ready for a real and fair dialogue, we can emerge from this low point strengthened and united and make this a significant moment in our lives together. This is the greatest crisis in Israel’s history. We are obliged to solve them together so that we can live here together.

Far-right Minister Ben Gvir threatens to resign

For the first time in the 13 long weeks of protests, the government had brought supporters of the reform onto the streets in their thousands. Among others, Itamar Ben Gvir, the right-wing extremist Minister for National Security, performed in Jerusalem. He had threatened Benjamin Netanyahu with resignation. Also because further negotiations with him were necessary, Netanyahu’s explanation was a long time coming.

At the meeting of the coalition leaders, I decided to leave the coalition because I was and still am of the opinion that the reform should be voted on today. We must not capitulate to the anarchists. Then I realized: I’ll give you victory if I leave the coalition. But they won’t win! You will not win! We will remain in the coalition and demand reform.

Ben Gvir can feel like one of the winners. Because it is still possible that the judicial reform will be decided as planned. And for agreeing to the postponement, Ben Gvir gets plenty of money to set up a national guard under his leadership. In recent weeks he has called for tougher action against demonstrators and is also in favor of a hard line towards Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Netanyahu postpones judicial reform vote after massive protests

Sophie von der Tann, ARD Tel Aviv, daily topics 10:15 p.m., March 27, 2023

Further steps unclear

Whether the mass protests will lose momentum is not yet foreseeable and will depend on the next steps. In the evening, President Herzog discussed this with Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid, among others.

Later in the evening there were road blockades and isolated riots between protesters and the police. The organizers of the reform opponents had previously announced that they would continue to take to the streets – until the legislative process was shelved.

Judicial reform in Israel – Netanyahu is playing for time

Jan-Christoph Kitzler, ARD Tel Aviv, March 28, 2023 12:10 a.m