Warning of looming civil war, opposition party head MK Benny Gantz on Thursday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt his coalition’s unilateral drive to overhaul the judiciary and resume compromise talks.
Supporting protest efforts to pressure Netanyahu to pause the overhaul legislation, Gantz addressed reporters in Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv, near where anti-overhaul protesters staged one of their most charged demonstrations to date hours earlier. On Wednesday night, thousands of demonstrators blocked the city’s main highway, lighting bonfires, flares, and fireworks before being dispersed by police water cannons and mounted officers.
Similar demonstrations were held at around the same time in about 40 locations around the country, following the resignation of Tel Aviv’s police chief.
“I call on Netanyahu to immediately announce the cessation of unilateral legislation, to come to the President’s Residence today and return to dialogue,” Gantz said. “If not for democracy, if not for security, if not for the economy, then for the integrity of the people of Israel and the prevention of bloodshed.”
He warned that if the internal divisions lead to bloodshed, Netanyahu will be held to blame.
“With the prospect of “more difficult events and, God forbid, bloodshed,” Gantz warned, “Netanyahu will not be able to say that he did not know. When he entrusts the security of the citizens of Israel to [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir, he abandons them.”
Netanyahu’s Likud party quickly slapped back, saying, “We don’t believe Benny Gantz” is serious about reaching compromise.
Gantz, the party said, “is prisoner to the protest and is unwilling or unable to reach any agreements. His whole purpose is to waste more time.”
This week, the coalition advanced bills to curtail judicial review over the “reasonableness” of elected officials’ decisions and to strip away the Israel Bar Association’s power, including its representation on the panel that picks judges. These measures are seen as previews to what is arguably the judicial overhaul’s main event: giving politicians greater power over appointing judges by restructuring the Judicial Selection Committee.
Gantz said he continued to back the mass demonstrations as a check against the governments’ planned legislation, called the six-month-old protest movement “the brake on the regime coup.”
Wednesday’s protest, called after Tel Aviv police chief Amichai Eshed said he was pushed out for “political” reasons for refusing to use a heavier hand against demonstrators, followed a Monday shutdown of the internal roads feeding Ben Gurion international airport.
Over 10,000 protesters flooded the airport’s roads, and hundreds broke into the terminal itself to chant, blare horns, and wave Israeli flags.
Protest leader Shikma Bressler told Army Radio on Thursday that the efforts were part of “kicking the protest into its next gear.” Protest leaders have said their goal is to prevent any overhaul-related bills being signed into law before the Knesset breaks for summer recess, at the end of July.
While Gantz maintained that “dialogue is the only solution for regulating our common future,” protest leaders and other opposition parties that aren’t participating in the frozen talks have called them a farce.
“Enough with the calls for fake dialogue,” said Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman shortly after Gantz delivered his remarks.
“It is simply irresponsible to turn the opposition into a fig leaf,” he continued, saying that it is the “responsibility of the opposition [to take] a clear stand against the messianic, halachic [Jewish religious law] government and against the predatory legislation that is leading us toward a benighted regime.”
Gantz said that he had spoken on Thursday with President Isaac Herzog, under whose auspices the talks had been held, and reiterated his interest in resuming them, if the coalition were to pause its overhaul legislation.
Both Gantz’s National Unity party and the Yesh Atid party quit the talks in mid-June and called for the coalition to staff and convene the Judicial Selection Committee, and refrain from unilaterally advancing legislation, as conditions for returning.
The coalition has yet to meet any of their conditions, and Likud has placed blame for the dialogue breakdown on the opposition’s shoulders.
“It is a pity that Benny Gantz did not respond to calls by coalition leaders, who had been calling on him for months to reach an agreement,” Likud said in its Thursday statement.