As mass protests grip Israel, Yoav Gallant says the dispute over the measures pose a threat to the country’s security.
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has called on the far-right government to halt its plans to overhaul the judiciary as tens of thousands of people protested against the measures.
In the first public dissent from within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s government, Galant said on Saturday in a brief televised statement, “The deepening split is seeping into the military and defence institutions. This is a clear, immediate and real danger to Israel’s security.”
Gallant said Netanyahu’s coalition government needs to hold talks with the opposition and asked it to wait until after the Jewish Passover holiday, which begins on April 5, before pushing ahead with the judicial changes.
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Israel has been gripped by mass protests since the government announced its proposed judicial reforms in January. Thousands of demonstrators have faced off against police in the streets weekly.
The latest protest against the plan saw tens of thousands rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday. Local media estimated 200,000 people turned out for the demonstration.
“We’re here today to show up and add our voice to the hundreds of thousands if not millions of Israelis that support the values that this country was founded on,” high-tech worker Daniel Nisman told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
“This is all we can hope for, that he [Netanyahu] brings us back from the edge of the abyss,” the 36-year-old said.
The government has been pushing for changes that would limit the Supreme Court’s powers to rule against the legislative and executive branches of government and give coalition lawmakers more power in appointing judges.
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The panel for selecting judges requires politicians and judges who sit on it to agree on appointments. The present proposal would change that, giving coalition governments decisive sway.
Critics say the changes will weaken the courts and hand unbridled power to the government, endangering rights and liberties with catastrophic effects for the economy and relations with Western allies, who have already voiced concern.
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They also fear Netanyahu wants to leverage the judicial push to freeze or void his trial on corruption charges, which he denies. He also has denied having any such plan.
“I will not take part in this,” Gallant said, although he did not elaborate on what he would do if the government pressed on with its plans. His statement indicated the first crack in Netanyahu’s coalition, the most right-wing government in Israeli history.
In recent weeks, discontent over the overhaul has even surged within the Israeli army, what Israelis consider to be the country’s most unifying institution.
Gallant had previously voiced worries about a wave of Israelis who have pledged not to heed call-ups for military reserve duty if the reforms proceed. He said that could weaken war-readiness and national cohesion.
A growing number of Israeli reservists have threatened to withdraw from voluntary duty in the past weeks, posing a broad challenge to Netanyahu as he ploughs ahead with the reform while on trial for corruption.
“The events taking place in Israeli society do not spare the Israel defence forces,” Gallant said in his televised address after the end of the Jewish Sabbath. “From all sides, feelings of anger, pain and disappointment arise with an intensity I have never encountered before. I see how the source of our strength is being eroded.”
The judicial overhaul has also stirred concern abroad about Israel’s democratic health. Senior officials in the finance ministry warned this week of an economic backlash. Gallant said he supported reforms of the justice system but they must be done with broad agreement.
Far-right police minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called on Netahyahu to fire Gallant soon after his remarks.