Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put his government’s push for judicial “reform” on hold March 27 in the face of growing opposition, including a national strike at the airport, stock exchange and hospitals called by the Histadrut labor federation, paralyzing the country. Thousands of army reservists also announced they would refuse to serve if the reform went through. “When there is a chance to prevent civil war through dialogue,” Netanyahu said, “I, as the prime minister, will take a timeout for dialogue.”
The regime’s decision to “pause” came after 12 weeks of protests by hundreds of thousands, including one in Tel Aviv, shown above. Netanyahu had little choice after associations of capitalist bosses — representing the Israeli ruling class — also came out against the government’s push to impose the reforms. And Washington, Israel’s key foreign ally, called for a stand-down and negotiations.
The reforms — pushed especially by rightist parties in the Netanyahu coalition — would give his government more say in the selection of high court judges and Israel’s parliament the power to overturn high court decisions with a simple majority vote, making the court almost powerless. The justices are currently selected by a committee of nine, in which the sitting ruling coalition is a minority. Israel has no constitution and the liberal-leaning court often justifies its rulings on the basis of “reasonableness” and other unwritten doctrines.
The Netanyahu government hoped to use the reform to ram through its program without judicial interference.
Recent years have been politically turbulent in Israel, with five different governments formed in the last four years. The current government came together when Netanyahu was able to cobble together a coalition that rules with a four-vote majority in the Knesset.
Parliament is now on recess for the next month, as the debate continues.