Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Monday to delay a vote on sweeping judicial reforms until the summer amid widespread protests and strikes, according to reports.
A nationwide strike by labor unions and university workers was set to begin Monday, after a night of protests on Israel’s streets following Netanyahu’s sacking of a cabinet member opposed to his bid to curb the Supreme Court’s power.
“Netanyahu and [Itamar] Ben Gvir agreed – the legislation will be postponed until the summer conference,” read a tweet from Channel 12 Monday. Gvir is a conservative member of the Knesset and leader of the Otzma Yehudit party, which is part of the coalition that put Netanyahu back in power in December.
Netanyahu, who is seeking to expand the Israeli parliament’s lawmaking authority by curbing the Supreme Court’s power, on Sunday fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had called for a pause in the reforms. Leftist protesters, already whipped up over what they perceive to be a threat to Israeli democracy, reacted by blocking streets and bridges and lighting fires on roadways.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to remove Defense Minister Yoav Gallant from his post,” read a Sunday statement from Netanyahu’s office announcing Gallant’s firing.
Critics of Israel’s Supreme Court believe it has too much power and is not answerable to the people. While the proposals have roiled Israel, most of them create the checks and balances between the legislative and judicial branches embraced by the U.S. Unlike the U.S., Israel does not have a written constitution.
Under the proposed reforms, the parliament would have an increased role in the selection of judges and the power to override Supreme Court decisions overturning laws. The high court would also be forced to apply the law to cases rather than ruling based on its own “reasonability” test.
Netanyahu had previously vowed to stand firm on the reform push, but Gallant’s opposition, together with the protests and a potentially crippling strike appears to have convinced the prime minister to back down — for now.
Gallant was fired after he gave a speech calling for Netanyahu to suspend the effort, saying the proposals pose a threat to Israel’s security. The threat Gallant perceived appears to be prompted by some reserve members of the Israeli Defense Forces reportedly threatening to stop training if the proposal is not withdrawn.
Other Israeli officials had previously called for a similar pause, including President Isaac Herzog.
“The eyes of all the people of Israel are on you,” Herzog wrote on Facebook a week ago. “The eyes of all the Jewish people are on you. The eyes of the whole world are on you. For the sake of the unity of Israelis, for the sake of committed responsibility I call on you to halt the legislative procedure immediately.”
In addition to Herzog and Gallant, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar, and Diaspora Affairs and Social Equality Minister Amichai Chikli had also called for suspending the legislation. Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem and member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, supports the reforms, but fears pushing them through now could spark a civil war.