Move could imperil coalition majority for key upcoming votes

Gallant calls to pause judicial overhaul, citing ‘tangible danger’ to state security

Breaking with PM, defense minister warns ‘the source of our strength is eroding’; 2 Likud members back his call for dialogue, others slam his ‘surrender,’ Ben Gvir wants him fired

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks in a televised address on March 25, 2023, urging a pause to the government's judicial overhaul legislation. (Courtesy)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks in a televised address on March 25, 2023, urging a pause to the government's judicial overhaul legislation. (Courtesy)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday called for the government to halt its judicial overhaul legislation to allow for reform talks, days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government would pass a key part of the proposed shakeup next week.

“The legislative process should be halted” for several weeks, Gallant said, a stance that received public support from two other Likud politicians and the reported backing of a third, while others in the party castigated him and Otzma Yehudit coalition party leader Itamar Ben Gvir demanded that he be fired.

“The security of the State of Israel is my life’s mission,” said Gallant, a retired general who was once a nominee to be the military’s chief of staff. “Clothed in the IDF’s uniform, I have risked my life dozens of times for the State of Israel, and at this time, for the sake of our country, I am willing to take any risk and pay any price.”

The defense minister stressed Israel was facing “great threats — both near and far,” citing Iran’s nuclear program, Palestinian attacks and recent tensions with the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. “More than ever, we face unprecedented security challenges,” he said.

Gallant, who touted the military as “a source of pride” for service members and the nation as a whole, said that in recent weeks he has been speaking to military officers and the rank-and-file regarding the overhaul plans.

“I hear their voices, and I am worried. The events taking place and the issues in Israeli society do not skip the Israel Defense Forces. Unprecedented feelings of anger, pain and disappointment have risen from all over,” he said.

“I see the source of our strength eroding,” Gallant warned. “The growing rift in our society is penetrating the IDF and security agencies. This poses a clear, immediate, and tangible threat to the security of the state. I will not lend my hand to this.”

Hundreds protest outside Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s home in Moshav Amikam, March 25, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Declaring himself a right-winger, Gallant noted his membership in the ruling Likud party, whose commitments he said included putting the country first. He then went on to stress his support for enacting changes to the judicial system, correcting “the balance” between the political echelon and the judiciary to “strengthen democracy.”

“Yet significant national changes are achieved through dialogue,” he said.

“We must not harm our unity. There must be no doubt in the hearts of the mothers, who will be sending their sons and daughters to serve in the IDF,” Gallant continued. “The victory of a single side, whether it be in the halls of the Knesset or on the streets of our cities, will lead to a loss for the State of Israel.”

The defense minister called for holding “a unifying national process with broad participation, a process that will strengthen the State of Israel and preserve the strength of the IDF.”

Gallant added that he said privately in recent days that talks must be held due to the security situation, and that the overhaul legislative “process must be halted,” but was now coming out publicly.

“For the sake of Israel’s security, for the sake of our sons and daughters, the legislative process should be stopped now, to enable the nation of Israel to celebrate Passover and Independence Day together, and to mourn together on Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day,” he said.

He also called for a halt to the protests — such as the mass demonstrations Saturday evening and rally held earlier in the day outside his home — and said “any refusal to serve in our military should be stopped immediately, as it erodes the power of the IDF and harms our defense establishment,” amid growing warnings from reservists they may cease serving if the overhaul passes.

File: Israeli reserve soldiers, veterans and activists protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gallant’s call to halt the legislation was publicly backed by two Likud lawmakers.

MK Yuli Edelstein, who chairs the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, thanked Gallant for “joining the path I’ve been leading for weeks.”

“The majority of the people want and understand the need for changes in the judicial system, but this must be done with patience, dialogue, and broad discourse in order to reach a broad consensus,” he said in a statement.

MK David Bitan similarly said: “As I already said several weeks ago, the legislation should be stopped and immediate negotiations should be started and broad agreements should be reached. I back the words of my friend the defense minister.”

Earlier Saturday, it was reported that Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter spoke with Netanyahu and other Likud MKs, asking to stop the judicial overhaul bills until after Independence Day on April 26.

“There will be no way back,” Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, was quoted as saying by Channel 12 news.

Neither Gallant nor the other MKs said how they would vote on the overhaul law bills if they are nevertheless brought for their final Knesset plenum readings this coming week, as planned.

Four rebel lawmakers who vote against the legislation would deny the 64-member coalition a majority in the 120-member parliament. If they were to merely abstain the coalition would still have the votes to pass the law, but it would be easier for the High Court to strike down an amendment to one of the quasi-constitutional Basic Laws if it were passed with fewer than 61 MKs, experts believe.

Other Likud members railed against Gallant, with Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi accusing him of “surrendering under left-wing pressure.”

“The State of Israel is at a historic crossroads between democracy and dictatorship, and its defense minister chose dictatorship,” Karhi wrote on Twitter.

Echoing Karhi, Likud MK Tally Gotliv charged Gallant was displaying “weakness and subservience.”

Coalition whip Ofir Katz of Likud said whoever doesn’t vote in favor of the judicial overhaul, “has ended his career in the Likud.”

Speaking on a Channel 14 talk show, Katz said Gallant has made a mistake in calling for a pause.

“He is wrong and wrong big time. Who do you think you have to talk to? Do you think there is another side waiting for you?” Katz said.

Some of Netanyahu’s far-right allies also tore into Gallant, with National Security Minister Ben Gvir urging Netanyahu to fire him.

“I call on the prime minister to fire Gallant, who came in with the votes of the right, but surrendered to the pressure of those who threatened to refuse [to serve in the military], and tries to put a stop to the important reform,” Ben Gvir said in a statement.

The speech won plaudits from opposition figures.

“Defense Minister Gallant is taking a brave and vital step tonight for the security of the State of Israel. The coup seriously harms national security and it is his role and responsibility to stop the dangerous deterioration,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said in a statement.

“This is the moment of truth. I call on the government: Stop everything, do not pass the change in the committee for the appointment of judges and the Deri law this week, and come and hold talks at the president’s residence,” he added.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi observe a joint US, Israeli military exercise at the Air Force command center, January 25, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Gallant’s speech came as the government pushes forward with its legislative plans. Netanyahu said in a speech Thursday night that he would soften parts of the shakeup going forward, but also said it would vote to pass next week the bill to put key Supreme Court appointments, including its presidency, directly in coalition control. It is not yet clear when the vote will be held, though Tuesday has been posited as a potential target. The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is convening on Sunday morning to continue the process of preparing and approving the bill for its second and third (final) Knesset readings.

Netanyahu spoke after summoning Gallant following widespread reports that the defense minister planned Thursday to hold a press conference in which he would have publicly called for a halt to the legislation.

Opponents of the overhaul have drawn a line in the sand on that bill, saying it will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. In response, protest leaders on Friday announced an unprecedented nationwide “week of paralysis” to upend daily life in the country, including mass protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The overhaul has been met with increasing alarm and objections by top public figures including the president, jurists, business leaders, Nobel-winning economists, prominent security officials, and many more. This week top Finance Ministry officials warned of deep and lasting damage to the economy if the changes pass in their current form

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