ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Netanyahu said to now back overhaul freeze; anti-riot police clear out Tel Aviv rally

Cops use water cannon, mounted officers to forcefully remove demonstrators from Ayalon Highway; prime minister and Deri said in favor of halting legislation after mammoth protests

  • Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
    Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
  • Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
    Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
  • Israelis block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
    Israelis block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
  • Police scuffle with a protester outside the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
    Police scuffle with a protester outside the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
  • Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
    Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
  • Hundreds of protesters gather outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
    Hundreds of protesters gather outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
  • Police scuffle with a protester outside the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
    Police scuffle with a protester outside the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
  • Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, March 26, 2023. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had called on Netanyahu to freeze the plan, citing deep divisions in the country and turmoil in the military. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
    Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, March 26, 2023. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had called on Netanyahu to freeze the plan, citing deep divisions in the country and turmoil in the military. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
  • Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023. (AP/Oren Ziv)
    Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023. (AP/Oren Ziv)
  • Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
    Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.

Workers begin to clear debris from Tel Aviv highway after mass protest

Protesters block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a demonstrations against the government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Protesters block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a demonstrations against the government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Workers begin to clear debris from Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway after a mass protest kept the central thoroughfare closed in both directions for five hours.

The workers are removing obstacles including metal barriers, the remains of bonfires, and other objects.

They say the work to clear the road will take hours and they hope to have it open to traffic by the morning.

Police say stones and other objects thrown by protesters injured three officers while they were clearing the highway.

Leading protest group calls for 2 p.m. demonstration at the Knesset

Members of the 'Brothers in Arms' reservist protest group hold a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Members of the 'Brothers in Arms' reservist protest group hold a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Brothers in Arms, a prominent protest group led by reservists, calls for a protest at 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Knesset in Jerusalem.

The group says in a statement that the protest movement “got a breath” after weeks of demonstrations, apparently referring to the increasing calls from government figures to freeze the judicial overhaul legislation, but says the protesters must not let up.

“Now is the time that we must step up the pressure more and more, in every place, against the ministers and Knesset members,” the group says in a statement.

“We must make sure, without a doubt, that Israel will always be Jewish and democratic,” the group says.

“Tomorrow too we will be in a number of places, and concentrating our efforts at the Knesset in Jerusalem,” the statement says, adding that more details are forthcoming.

“Together we will win,” the group says.

National student group declares strike, joining universities

Thousands of protesters rally against the judicial overhaul bills in Ra'anana, March 27, 2023. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Thousands of protesters rally against the judicial overhaul bills in Ra'anana, March 27, 2023. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

The National Student and Youth Council, representing high school and middle school students, declares a nationwide strike to start in the morning.

The council calls for “halting the [overhaul] legislation and immediately beginning negotiations.”

The announcement comes after massive protests roil the country and the declaration of several other strikes.

Earlier today, a group of universities announced a general strike starting in the morning.

Several mayors and regional leaders have announced a hunger strike in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

The powerful Histadrut labor union is set to hold a press conference tomorrow and is expected to announce a general strike.

Coalition party leaders reportedly set to meet in the morning

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Coalition leaders are reportedly set to hold a meeting in the morning.

The party leaders canceled a meeting scheduled for today.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Likud party, supports halting the advancement of the overhaul legislation and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties have said they will support Netanyahu’s decision, according to unconfirmed reports.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who leads the Otzma Yehudit party, wants the legislation to proceed, the reports said.

With water cannons and mounted officers, police break up Tel Aviv protest

Protesters block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Protesters block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Police forcefully clear out protesters from the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, using riot dispersal means after the central thoroughfare had been blocked for around five hours.

Officers give the protesters an order to disperse and a column of police mounted on horses makes its way into the crowd.

Dozens of officers advance toward the protesters in a line, backed by heavy vehicles with flashing lights.

Anti-riot police open a number of water cannons against the demonstrators, including those on the side of the road.

Dozens of officers chase protesters up an adjacent hill and begin to shove them away from the road.

Some demonstrators throw objects such as water bottles at officers.

Most of the protesters are cleared off the road within minutes. Dozens of officers, a number of vehicles and the detritus from the protest remain on the highway.

The remaining protesters stand on an embankment above the road, chanting at police.

Dozens of officers charge up the hill to drive the demonstrators farther from the street.

Police shove some protesters and throw them to the ground.

Officers then advance across a foot bridge over the highway, physically removing protesters from the path.

Water cannons continue to blast protesters near the road.

Channel 12 says police negotiated with the demonstrators before using force, and most of the demonstrators had left the road, but some stayed behind, refusing to budge.

Man arrested after protester hit with vehicle in Gadera

A protester on the hood of a vehicle that apparently rammed into him at a demonstration in Gadera, March 26, 2023. (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A protester on the hood of a vehicle that apparently rammed into him at a demonstration in Gadera, March 26, 2023. (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Police arrest a driver who is suspected of ramming a protester with his vehicle at a demonstration in the central city of Gadera.

The protester is lightly injured and has been evacuated by first responders to a hospital in Hadera.

Video from the scene shows a white sedan speeding away from a protest with a man sprawled on the hood of the vehicle, as other demonstrators give chase.

Police say in response to the incident, “We will continue to act to allow for the freedom of expression along with the security of protesters.”

Netanyahu and Deri in favor of halting overhaul legislation — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Shas party leader Aryeh Deri are in favor of halting the advancement of the judicial overhaul legislation.

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party has said it will support any decision made by Netanyahu.

Justice Minister Levin and his close allies, and National Security Minister Ben Gvir are still in favor of pushing forward with the legislation, the unsourced report says.

Likud minister, top Religious Zionism rabbi call to freeze legislation

Joining other coalition members urging the government to halt its judicial overhaul push, Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli calls for a rethink in how the legislative package is sold to the public.

“You have to admit, honestly, we lost direction,” he says in a lengthy statement.

“I suggest we respond to Benny Gantz’s proposal, which seems to come from a pure and well-intentioned place, sketch out a new roadmap for resuming the legislative process, present it to the public and set the rules of the game ahead of time,” he adds.

Chikli is sure to temper his comments with full-throated backing for the essence of the overhaul while reiterating his fealty to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, a leading rabbi in the religious nationalist movement and a spiritual mentor to the Religious Zionism party signs a letter along with other prominent rabbis from the community urging a ceasefire in the fight over the judicial shakeup.

Noting the damage already caused to the nation by the brouhaha, the rabbis call on the government to halt legislative activity on the overhaul until after Independence Day next month, urging the opposition to curtail protests until then as well.

Fires continue to burn along Ayalon

Israelis block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Fires are continuing to burn along the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, and protesters are continuing to wave flags, chant slogans and demonstrate against the government.

While firefighters, medics and other safety officials are on hand, police have largely left the scene, Channel 12 news reports.

Former ToI correspondent Shoshanna Solomon describes the scene as she and others made their way into the streets earlier in the evening:

As news spread of Gallant’s firing, people started making their way to Kaplan street, the site of the weekly protests and then down to block the main Ayalon highway from both sides.

They came by electric scooters donned with flags on their backs. Others out from the philharmonic concert, dressed in heels and stoles. Yet others rushed out of restaurants and made their way down the Ayalon.

Early on in the evening a small group of policemen tried to block the way of demonstrators to the south of the Ayalon highway but gave up. There were just too many people. These ‘anarchists’ as Netanyahu dubbed then were old and young but mainly young. They hugged each other, yelled and sang. Jumped and danced: “we are not afraid !” They chanted. Bibi go home! Democracy or revolt! But mainly they yelled “democracy!“ “Democracy! “

They came with drums, whistles, and wuwuzelas. Some lit a fires in the middle of the highway.  In their midst you could not help but feel you were part of history and the surreal feeling that this is not Tel Aviv but images you see on tv of other countries where people are revolting.

Even as midnight struck throngs of people were still making their way to the Ayalon.

Bill meant to pave Deri’s way back to cabinet passes committee, heads to plenum

A bill that will muzzle the High Court’s ability to strike down the appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as a cabinet minister is headed back to the Knesset plenum for its final two votes, a Knesset spokesman says.

The bill, known derisively as the Deri Law 2, passed a committee vote 8-6 after a long, bruising debate over the legislation, which forms part of the the government’s judicial overhaul package.

If it passes, the measure will forbid the court system from weighing in on government decisions. The bill is widely seen as designed to be a salve for Deri, a thrice convicted politician whose appointment as interior and health ministers was struck down earlier this year.

 

Barkat: I will back the prime minister in a decision to stop the overhaul; we can’t have civil war

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right), and Economy Minister Nir Barkat in the Knesset on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right), and Economy Minister Nir Barkat in the Knesset on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Economy Minister Nir Barkat issues a statement that appears to assume Netanyahu will halt the judicial overhaul legislation, and supports him in advance for doing so.

“The State of Israel takes precedence over everything,” Barkat says. “The people of Israel take precedence over everything. I will back the prime minister in a decision to stop and plot a new course.

“The reform is necessary and we will carry it out — but not at the price of civil war.”

Police brass meet at traffic patrol HQ to discuss protests

Police meeting at Beit Dagan on March 27, 2023. (Courtesy: Police spokesperson)
Police meeting at Beit Dagan on March 27, 2023. (Courtesy: Police spokesperson)

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai is holding a situational assessment with other police brass to discuss the protests occurring nationwide, a spokesperson says.

The meeting is held at the headquarters of the police’s traffic control division at Beit Dagan, possibly pointing to police prioritizing reopening roads and highways blocked by demonstrations.

 

Likud minister: Overhaul legislation should be stopped ‘to allow things to calm down’

Culture and Sport Miki Zohar at the ministry offices in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Culture and Sport Miki Zohar at the ministry offices in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Miki Zohar, the Likud’s culture and sports minister, calls the current situation untenable and says “if Netanyahu decides to stop the legislation, he should be backed… That’s the imperative of the hour.”

Speaking on Channel 12, he says, “people believed that the reform would render the country undemocratic…  Lots of good people went out to demonstrate.”

While the legislation should be paused now, “to allow things to calm down,” Zohar says, nonetheless, “we have to complete this reform — with intelligence… and better explanation.”

He says he doesn’t know what Netanyahu will decide to do.

Half the country elected the coalition to carry out the reform, Zohar says, but not now — “not with the streets on fire. You don’t burn down the home on its residents.”

He favors discussions with the opposition on the reform, but “If we can’t reach agreements we have to complete the reform that we were elected to carry out.”

Attorney general opposes suit seeking PM’s recusal

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has told the High Court of Justice that she opposes petitions filed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and herself demanding she instruct the prime minister to recuse himself from office.

The petitions, filed by the Movement for Quality Government and others last month, requested the High Court issue such an order due to what they argue is Netanyahu’s conflict of interest between involvement in his government’s judicial and legal overhaul legislation and his own criminal trial on corruption charges.

Last week however, a law preventing the prime minister from being recused by anyone other than themselves or the cabinet with the Knesset’s approval, was approved in Knesset and entered into force.

Baharav-Miara tells the court in a filing on Sunday that the petitions are no longer relevant in light of the new legislation and that the court can therefore not make such an order.

On Friday, the attorney general sent a letter to Netanyahu informing him that he had broken the law by violating the conflict of interests drawn up for him under the terms of a 2020 High Court ruling which determined that he could serve as prime minister as long as he abided by a conflict of interest drawn up by then attorney general Avichai Mandelblit.

Baharav-Miara updated that conflict of interest document in February, although Netanyahu declared he was not bound by it.

Coalition parties line up behind Netanyahu

The Shas and United Torah Judaism parties are doubling down on backing for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reportedly releasing statements saying they will continue to support the premier, amid massive opposition to the government’s judicial overhaul.

The near identical statements from the parties say they will continue “to support the prime minister and his decisions.” They also deny any murmurings of disunity.

In a separate statement, the Otzma Yehudit party says it is fully behind Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, urging them to ignore calls for the judicial overhaul drive to be stopped.

“The right has no mandate to torpedo the judicial reform and instigate violence,” it says.

Party leader Itamar Ben Gvir had loudly lobbied for Netanyahu to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, sparking Sunday night’s unprecedented protests.

Shin Bet chief checks security outside Netanyahu’s home

Ronen Bar, the head of the Shin Bet, is spotted on Azza (Gaza) Street outside Netanyahu’s home.

He checked the security arrangements at the residence.

A reporter on the scene tweets that the crowd is calling on Bar to save Israeli democracy.

The protesters did not break through police barriers there earlier; rather, they were blocked, Channel 12 says.

Netanyahu said considering halting the judicial overhaul, Levin threatening to resign

Netanyahu is reported to be at the Prime Minister’s Office, conducting hours of “security and legal discussions.”

Channel 12 reports that Netanyahu is considering announcing tomorrow morning that he will pause the judicial overhaul, but Justice Minister Yariv Levin is threatening to resign if he does so.

It says most members of the coalition favor halting the legislation, in light of the nationwide protests. Both the ultra-Orthodox coalition parties consent to doing so, it says.

The Knesset’s Constitution Committee has been debating into the night, finalizing the core legislation which would give the coalition near-complete control of choosing Israel’s judges. Committee chairman Simcha Rothman has announced that discussion in the committee will resume at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow, Channel 12 says. The bill is scheduled to be presented for its final readings tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, a separate Knesset committee has just finalized legislation, ahead of its final Knesset readings, that would bar the High Court from preventing ministerial appointments, enabling Shas leader Aryeh Deri to return to the cabinet.

Tens of thousands still blocking Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv

Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of protesters are still blocking the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, more than three hours since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The protesters have lit bonfires on the highway and are planning to stay there overnight.

Police have yet to attempt to disperse them.

Tens of thousands demonstrating from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat; Jerusalem protesters march toward Knesset

Channel 12, in an unconfirmed report, says 600,000-700,000 Israelis are demonstrating nationwide, from Kiryat Shmona in the north to Eilat in the south. Haaretz, by contrast, puts the figure in the tens of thousands. There are no official estimates.

Jerusalem protesters are marching from Netanyahu’s home on Azza (Gaza) Street toward the Knesset and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Amid reports that Likud sources say the coalition’s overhaul legislation may be halted, former prime minister Ehud Barak says “pausing the overhaul won’t stop the protests. We’ve passed the point of no return.”

Barak also says that if Israel’s enemies “try to test or provoke us,” they should understand that “Israelis will unite to tackle them.”

“What happened tonight will not be forgotten,” says Barak, “firing a defense minister who warned of national security dangers.”

Channel 12, in an unsourced report, says the IDF has raised its alert, since what is happening inside Israel might tempt external enemies to seek to act. The Kan state broadcaster says the report is untrue.

Netanyahu said mulling freezing overhaul legislation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a discussion and a vote in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on March 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a discussion and a vote in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on March 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Kan public broadcaster and Channel 12 news say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is mulling freezing the judicial overhaul legislation.

Kan does not provide a source for the report, while Channel 12 cites “political sources.”

Channel 12 adds that Shas leader Aryeh Deri supports halting the legislation.

Knesset constitution committee poised to approve final stages of judicial overhaul

MK Simcha Rothman, head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, right, during a committee meeting at the Knesset  in Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Simcha Rothman, head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, right, during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is poised to approve the first stage of the government’s judicial overhaul program for its final votes in the Knesset plenum in the coming days.

Amid mass demonstrations around the country, including outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, the Constitution Committee completes the voting on objections to the legislation which would give the coalition an automatic majority on the Judicial Selection Committee and thereby almost complete control over all judicial appointments in Israel.

The committee accepts one reservation to the bill that was introduced by Likud MKs Ariel Kallner and Moshe Saada canceling a clause requiring ministers and MKs on the Judicial Selection Committee to come from different parties.

Constitution Committee Chairman MK Simcha Rothman who has rammed the legislation through his committee originally hailed this clause for diversifying power on the Judicial Selection Committee.

The Constitution Committee now awaits a determination from the Knesset House Committee regarding a procedural request from opposition MK Oded Forer that the bill return to the Constitution Committee for further debate, owing to the changes made through Kallner and Saada’s reservation.

Rothman announces at 11:10 p.m. that the committee will hold the final votes to approve the bill for its second and third readings in the Knesset plenum after a ruling by the House Committee.

But at 11:50 p.m., a spokesperson for the Constitution Committee announces the votes will not be held Sunday night, and that the committee will re-convene after further notice.

Police use water cannons against protesters outside Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem

Police scuffle with a protester outside the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Police scuffle with a protester outside the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Police are using water cannons against protesters demonstrating outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem.

Earlier, police scuffled with some of the thousands of protesters. There are no immediate reports of arrests.

Several mayors announce hunger strike over judicial overhaul

Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)

The mayors of Kfar Saba and Herzliya, the heads of the Upper Galilee and Shaar Hanegev regional councils, and the head of the Zichron Yaakov local council, announce a hunger strike, Channel 12 news reports.

The report says the mayors and community leaders will strike in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

The hunger strike comes at the same time that mass protests are sweeping the country tonight, as the government presses on with the judicial overhaul and following the ousting of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who called to pause the legislation.

Former PM Bennett: ‘We have to save the State of Israel, nothing less… There must be no bloodshed”

File: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 26, 2022. (Yoav Dudkevitch/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 26, 2022. (Yoav Dudkevitch/Flash90)

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett warns: “Israel is in greater danger than at any time since the Yom Kippur war [in 1973] — security danger, diplomatic danger, economic danger, in danger of falling apart.”

Speaking by phone to Channel 12, he says: “I call from here to prime minister Netanyahu… to withdraw the dismissal of Gallant, to completely suspend the overhaul until after Independence Day [in a month] and enter a period of discussion; I know for certain that the opposition is ready.

“It doesn’t matter who is right… The reform is simply not relevant. What is relevant is preserving our country as a unified, functional country.

As tens of thousands participate in spontaneous demonstrations nationwide, Bennett adds: “And I urge all the protesters… all the citizens of Israel… do everything, but without violence, without bloodshed… There must be no bloodshed.”

Bennett says “our enemies are closely watching everything that is happening in the State of Israel…. They are trying to unite to capitalize” on any weakness. He cites Iran, Hezbollah, and terror groups in Gaza, and warns: “If you open fire on us, we will unite — there won’t be a single Israeli who won’t participate in our defense.”

Bennett stresses: “We have to save the state of Israel, nothing less. … This is a time for leadership. Netanyahu must make the first step [to heal the internal rifts]. The opposition will stretch out its hand in return.”

Police chief says protests key part of democracy, but will not allow rioting

Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)

Police issue a statement during mass protests sweeping the country tonight, as the government presses on with the judicial overhaul and following the ousting of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who called to pause the legislation.

The statement says Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai wrapped up an assessment of the protests.

“The commissioner reiterated again this evening that the Israel Police allows the right to protest and considers it a cornerstone of a democratic country, but at the same time will not allow public disorder, damage to symbols of government, harm to infrastructure and police officers,” the statement says.

Dozens of police officers have been dispatched to handle the protests.

Ex-IAF chief: Netanyahu ‘declared civil war’

Eitan Ben-Eliahu, a former Israel Air Force chief, says Netanyahu “declared civil war.”

He cites the prime minister’s firing of Gallant, and his demand last week that the IDF top brass stamp out insubordination that stemmed from concerns over the judicial overhaul.

Universities announce strike from tomorrow morning over judicial overhaul

Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
Israelis opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan set up bonfires and block a highway during a protest moments after the Israeli leader fired his defense minister, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)

A group of universities announces a general strike starting tomorrow morning over the government’s judicial overhaul and the ousting of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who called to pause the legislation.

“We, the heads of Israel’s research universities, presidents, rectors, and management, will stop studies in all of Israel’s research universities starting tomorrow morning, amid the continuation of the legislative process that undermines the foundations of Israeli democracy and endangers its continued existence,” the universities say in a statement carried by Hebrew media.

“We call on the prime minister and the members of the coalition to stop the legislation immediately, and immediately enter talks in order to reach an agreed and broad outline,” they add.

Reporters at demos invoke Tahrir Square comparisons; ex-general says Netanyahu must rescind Gallant’s dismissal

Yisrael Ziv, a retired general who headed the IDF’s Operations Directive, says that with the demonstrations nationwide, Israel is witnessing “historic pictures” of a possible revolution.

Channel 12 reporters at the protests in Tel Aviv say some are comparing what is unfolding to the events in Tahrir Square, Cairo, in the Egyptian revolution of 2011.

Ziv says Netanyahu needs to immediately announce that he is rescinding Gallant’s dismissal, declare that he is halting the coalition’s judicial overhaul, and call for a broad national unity government.

“What is unfolding is worse than our worst nightmare,” says Ziv, of tonight’s events and those of recent weeks, “a dire national crisis.”

IDF Maj. Gen. (ret.) Israel Ziv (screen capture: YouTube)

“A state can collapse in this way. We are on a slippery slope,” he says.

“Netanyahu needs to take responsibility, if he is fit to do so.”

Ben Gvir to hold assessment at police HQ amid mass protests

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir in the Traffic Police's National Control Center with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on March 9, amid nationwide protests against the government's judicial overhaul program. (Courtesy: Office of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir in the Traffic Police's National Control Center with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on March 9, amid nationwide protests against the government's judicial overhaul program. (Courtesy: Office of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir says he is heading to the police headquarters in Jerusalem to hold an assessment “following the serious events tonight.”

Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest the government’s judicial overhaul and the ousting of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who called to pause the legislation.

Gallant’s office denies ousted defense minister will appeal to High Court

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks in a televised address on March 25, 2023. (Courtesy)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks in a televised address on March 25, 2023. (Courtesy)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s office denies reports that the ousted minister will appeal to the High Court against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to fire him.

“Following reports that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is considering petitioning the High Court, we would like to clarify that that is a complete lie,” his office says.

Defense Ministry director general cuts US trip short

Newly appointed Defense Ministry Director-General Eyal Zamir (left) with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, on February 1, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)
Newly appointed Defense Ministry Director-General Eyal Zamir (left) with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, on February 1, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

Defense Ministry Director General Eyal Zamir, who is currently in the United States for a series of meetings with American officials, will be cutting his trip short and returning to Israel, following the ousting of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The Defense Ministry says Zamir made the decision to return to Israel early.

Israel’s envoy in NY Asaf Zamir quits

Israel's Consul General in New York Asaf Zamir speaks at a JNF-USA event on October 28, 2021. (Shahar Azran/File)
Israel's Consul General in New York Asaf Zamir speaks at a JNF-USA event on October 28, 2021. (Shahar Azran/File)

Israel’s Consul General in New York Asaf Zamir announces on Twitter he is quitting, apparently over the judicial overhaul.

In a short tweet, Zamir says: “I quit,” adding an Israeli flag emoji.

The resignation comes amid mass protests across the country, following the ousting of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant by Prime Minister Netanyahu, after the former publicly warned about the consequences of the legal shakeup to the military.

Ehud Barak: Netanyahu ‘has gone off the rails, must be removed’ from office

Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a protest in Tel Aviv against the government's planned judicial overhaul, February 25, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a protest in Tel Aviv against the government's planned judicial overhaul, February 25, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Former prime minister Ehud Barak says he is certain the protests will now spread, and that IDF reservists’ opposition to volunteering for active reserve duty under this government will swell.

“People who have risked their lives many times, and lost colleagues, in the service of a democracy are not prepared to do so in the service of a dictatorship or a dictator,” he says on Channel 12.

Gallant was fired “because he demanded that the security cabinet convene, after he recognized a clear and present danger to Israel, on the basis of the intelligence material he sees, and during this judicial revolution.”

Netanyahu’s refusal to convene the cabinet “shows that he has lost his judgment and his capacity to assess reality.”

Referring to the process in the US for the orderly removal of a serving president, Barak notes that “this has never happened in the history of the state. Netanyahu is not to fit continue for so much as another day as prime minister of Israel.”

Asked whether Netanyahu might now fire the IDF chief of staff, Barak says, “Anything is possible…. He’s gone off the rails, and must be removed.”

“This is civil disorder,” he says of the scenes of protests around the country, “a spontaneous protest that will not end until Netanyahu is gone from office.”

Protests also held in Beersheba, Haifa following ousting of defense minister

Thousands of Israelis protest on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023, after the dismissal of Defense Minister Gallant. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Thousands of Israelis protest on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2023, after the dismissal of Defense Minister Gallant. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Thousands of Israelis are gathering across the country after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

In addition to massive protests held on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv and outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, thousands are gathering in the southern city of Beersheba and the northern coastal city of Haifa.

Poweful labor union expected to announce strike over judicial overhaul — reports

Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

The powerful Histadrut labor union will hold a press conference tomorrow, due to increasing protests against the government’s judicial overhaul and following the ousting of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

According to Hebrew-language media reports, the union is expected to announce a general strike.

Thousands of Israelis take to the streets after Netanyahu fires defense minister

Thousands of Israelis are blocking the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv in both directions after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

In Jerusalem, hundreds are gathered outside Netanyahu’s home.

Protest leaders against the judicial overhaul announced a spontaneous demonstration tonight following the ousting of Gallant.

Protest leaders announce rally outside army HQ in Tel Aviv after Gallant fired

Protest leaders announce a spontaneous demonstration this evening in front of the military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The protest is expected at 10 p.m.

Lapid calls Netanyahu ‘a danger to Israel’ for canning Gallant

Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on March 20, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on March 20, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid assails Netanyahu for firing Gallant.

In a statement, Lapid calls the move “a new low for an anti-Zionist government that is harming national security and ignoring the warnings of all security figures.”

“The Israeli prime minister is a danger to the State of Israel,” he says.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, also a former defense minister, calls Netanyahu’s axing of Gallant “dictatorship at its best.”

“The defense minister dared to express the deep concern of all the heads of the security branches over the disintegration of the IDF and fatal harm to Israel’s security,” Liberman writes on Twitter.

“Instead of listening to [Gallant] and convening the cabinet, Netanyahu chose the path of all dictators — silencing voices.”

Ben Gvir hails firing of Gallant; Gantz warns Israel now at greater security risk

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant seen during a tour near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, March 16, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant seen during a tour near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, March 16, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Reactions begin to come in from politicians against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who called last night to pause the judicial overhaul.

“Reform now!” tweets far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who yesterday urged Netanyahu to can Gallant.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz, Gallant’s predecessor as defense minister, says Israel is facing a “clear, immediate and tangible danger” to its security.

“The danger has become worse. Netanyahu put politics and himself over security this evening,” Gallant says.

Labor chief Merav Michaeli says the move shows that “now, more than ever, Netanyahu is very dangerous to Israel.”

Netanyahu fires Defense Minister Gallant after speech calling to pause judicial overhaul

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-immigrant absorption minister Yoav Gallant hold a press conference at the Knesset, January 9, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90/ File)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-immigrant absorption minister Yoav Gallant hold a press conference at the Knesset, January 9, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/ Flash90/ File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, his office says.

In a brief statement, the Prime Minister’s Office says Netanyahu has decided to transfer Gallant from his post.

It is unclear what new position he will be given, if any.

Yesterday, Gallant called to pause the judicial overhaul, citing danger to state security, given widespread protests in the military.

Protests also held outside homes of Likud MKs Edelstein, Danon

Protests against the planned changes to the judicial system are now also being held outside the homes of Likud MKs Yuli Edelstein and Danny Danon.

During the demonstration outside Edelstein’s house in Herzliya, a former officer in the Sayeret Matkal commando unit is arrested on suspicion of disturbing the peace, according to the Ynet news site.

IDF delays 2-day workshop for General Staff so they can discuss overhaul with units

The Israel Defense Forces says it is delaying a two-day workshop session for members of the General Staff, to allow for the senior officers to discuss the judicial overhaul with their respective units.

“In the coming days, all IDF commanders will hold talks with their subordinates, standing and reserve, following the protests in Israeli society, with the aim of strengthening the cohesion of the IDF and maintaining its competence,” the military says.

The now-delayed two-day session was meant to discuss the IDF’s multi-year plan, the military says.

Shlomo Artzi to forgo Israel Prize, says not right time when Israel ‘hurt and torn’

Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi performs at Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv on July 2, 2015. (Moshe Shai/ Flash90/ File)
Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi performs at Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv on July 2, 2015. (Moshe Shai/ Flash90/ File)

Singer Shlomo Artzi announces he will forgo the Israel Prize in Hebrew music, citing divisions over the government’s contentious legislation to radically change the judicial system.

In a statement, Artzi says, “At the current time, when our country is hurt and torn,” he feels deeply uncomfortable receiving the prize and would therefore “give up this great up honor.”

“I’ve sung for 50 years for everyone,” he continues. “To be part of the Israeli soundtrack — that’s the real prize I’ve won.”

Artzi ends the statement by saying he wishes for “the loving, embracing, democratic Israel which I sang for my entire life.”

Netanyahu on High Court petition: Attempt ‘to carry out a coup’ under cover of court

Attorney Michael Rabilo arrives for a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)
Attorney Michael Rabilo arrives for a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)

Responding to a High Court petition alleging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu violated a conflict of interest arrangement, a lawyer for the premier argues the court has no authority to hear the matter and therefore should reject the suit.

Michael Rabilo cites a controversial law passed last week to prevent the court from ordering Netanyahu to recuse himself, though Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has clarified that the premier is barred from dealing with the government’s judicial overhaul due to the potential impact on his ongoing trial for corruption charges.

“This is a grave attempt to drag the judicial system into the political turmoil and cause it to decide illegally and in opposition to the decision of the representative democratic institutions, without explicit authority in law,” he says.

Rabilo adds: “No word games can hid the fact that there’s an attempt here to uproot the sovereignty of the people and carry out a coup under the cover of the court.”

Anti-overhaul protesters block Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv

A group of protesters run onto the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, blocking northbound traffic as part of demonstrations against the judicial overhaul.

IDF censures junior officers over death of soldier in accidental grenade blast

Cpl. Denis Zinoviev, 18, killed in an accidental grenade explosion at a base in the Jordan Valley on January 14, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Cpl. Denis Zinoviev, 18, killed in an accidental grenade explosion at a base in the Jordan Valley on January 14, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Two junior officers are censured over the death of a soldier earlier this year in an accidental grenade blast.

In the January 15 incident, Cpl. Denis Zinoviev brought an unexploded grenade he found during a training exercise back to his base’s living quarters, where it later exploded, killing him and wounding three other soldiers.

The Israel Defense Forces wraps up an investigation into the explosion, finding that the deadly accident was caused largely due to a “failure to follow safety procedures.”

The commander of the Kfir Brigade’s training program during the explosion was censured, and Zinoviev’s company commander is reprimanded, the IDF says.

Protests held outside homes of Likud ministers Levin, Dichter and Barkat

Anti-government protesters rally outside the homes of Justice Minister, Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, and Economy Minister Nir Barkat, as they look to up pressure ahead of a scheduled vote this week on a key part of the government’s plans for overhauling the judiciary.

Levin, a resident of Modiin, is a key architect of the proposed shakeup of the judicial system, while Dichter, who lives in Ashkelon, earlier today reiterated that he will back the legislation when it comes up for a vote, following reports that he urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt it. Barkat, a former venture capitalist and Jerusalem mayor, has been meeting with tech and business leaders as they express concerns over the economic implications of the judicial changes.

Israel-UAE free trade deal takes force as customs agreement inked in Jerusalem

In this handout phot, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauds as Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed al-Khaja exchange signed copies of the custom agreement between the countries, March 26, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
In this handout phot, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauds as Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed al-Khaja exchange signed copies of the custom agreement between the countries, March 26, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

As the bilateral diplomatic relationship shows worrying signs, the final and most important component of the free trade agreement between Israel and the UAE — the customs agreement — is signed by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and UAE Ambassador Mohamed al-Khaja in Jerusalem, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in attendance.

The Israel-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement was signed in Dubai last May, but did not take force until the two countries signed the customs agreement today.

The customs agreement took months to conclude because the sides had to carefully go through every product and decide what would be covered. According to the UAE, the agreement lowers or eliminates tariffs on more than 96 percent of tariff lines and 99% of the total value of trade between the two countries.

Israel’s tax and customs authorities were among the bodies participating the talks.

They were concluded several weeks ago, but the signing ceremony waited until Netanyahu, Cohen, and Khaja were all in the country at the same time.

It will go into effect on April 1.

Netanyahu says the agreement will “bring about a reduction in customs, will bring down the cost of living, and will give a shot in the arm to business between Israel and the UAE.”

“I am sure we will continue to expand the circle of peace with Israel along with other countries in the region,” he adds.

Herzog accepts credentials of Azerbaijan’s first ambassador to Israel

In this handout photo, President Isaac Herzog shakes hands with Azerbaijan's new Ambassador Mukhtar Mammadov while accepting his credentials, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)
In this handout photo, President Isaac Herzog shakes hands with Azerbaijan's new Ambassador Mukhtar Mammadov while accepting his credentials, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, March 26, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog accepts the credentials of Azerbaijan’s Ambassador Mukhtar Mammadov, officially making him the former Soviet republic’s first envoy to the Jewish state.

“This appointment is an important milestone, as we celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations,” Herzog says.

IDF orders increased security checks on West Bank highway after latest Huwara attack

Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox tours the scene of a shooting attack in the West Bank town of Huwara, March 26, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces).
Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox tours the scene of a shooting attack in the West Bank town of Huwara, March 26, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces).

Chief of the military’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox holds an assessment at the scene of last night’s shooting attack in the West Bank town of Huwara.

The attack wounded two soldiers, who are currently hospitalized in moderate condition. The Palestinian gunman has not yet been captured.

Fox orders to increase security checks of cars along the Route 60 highway, especially those entering and exiting the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

Additionally, Fox instructs to increase defenses at the army posts along the highway in Huwara, as well as place additional surveillance cameras to foil further attacks.

Bitan condemns ‘impertinence’ of fellow Likud members who urged that Gallant be fired

David Bitan, chairman of the Knesset Economic Committee, heads a committee hearing, March 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
David Bitan, chairman of the Knesset Economic Committee, heads a committee hearing, March 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK David Bitan slams fellow party members who called for Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to be fired after he urged a pause on the government’s contentious push to shake up the judicial system.

Bitan, who last night came out in support of Gallant, says he believes the defense minister reached the conclusion that domestic calm is needed to prevent any harm to Israel’s security.

“In the [Likud] faction, there are MKs who are really extreme,” he tells the Kan public broadcaster. “It’s not the faction we’d become accustomed to.”

“I don’t accept a minister calling to dismiss another minister. That’s impertinence,” he adds.

Bitan also predicts Netanyahu won’t give Gallant the ax, forecasting significant political damage to Likud if he does.

PM’s office: Gallant never asked to convene cabinet for talks on overhaul’s security impact

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, left, speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a vote in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, left, speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a vote in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office denies reports that he rejected a request by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to convene the cabinet for discussions on the security implications of the judicial overhaul, saying no such request was ever made.

Senior defense official: Israel’s enemies see country ‘as weak’ amid overhaul rifts

Israeli soldiers on the border between Lebanon and Israel, March 15, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers on the border between Lebanon and Israel, March 15, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

A senior defense official says Israel’s enemies view the Jewish state as weak amid the controversy over the government’s judicial overhaul.

“Our enemies see Israel as weak and limited in its retaliation, especially in light of the weakening of international support,” the official tell reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The internal situation has become a central element, all the players point to the fact that Israel is in a serious crisis, and in their view, could lead to the collapse of Israel. They recognize an opportunity. There is damage to [our] deterrence and there are attacks being planned, based on their assumption that Israel is paralyzed,” he says.

The official says his view is shared by IDF chief Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, and Mossad chief David Barnea.

The official says the IDF is “at full competency,” despite hundreds of reservists officers threatening to boycott volunteer duty over the overhaul.

“But continuing the legislative process without an agreement will result in competence being damaged,” he says.

“It also affects the standing army. We can already see a crack,” he says, adding that the IDF is also preparing for conscript soldiers refusing to become officers.

“There is already damage and this is the reason why it is necessary to stop,” he says. “There is damage because a unit needs cohesion and this goes against the spirit of the IDF. Anyone who thinks that the debate about the legislation can be left outside [the military] is stuck 40 years in the past. We need to curb the legislation and take this information into account.”

Man killed in shooting in northern Arab town

A man has died of his wounds after being shot in the northern Arab town of Rama.

Two other people were seriously hurt in the shooting and taken to a nearby hospital.

Likud’s Amsalem slated to become 2nd minister in Justice Ministry this evening

Likud MK David Amsalem speaks in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash900
Likud MK David Amsalem speaks in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash900

Likud MK David Amsalem, a vocal Supreme Court critic, is poised to become a second minister within the Justice Ministry, with the Knesset set to ratify his appointment later this evening.

Neither Amsalem nor Justice Minister Yariv Levin detail the expected division of authorities between them, with the former’s office flatly refusing to discuss the substantive elements of the appointment until his place in the cabinet is confirmed.

The appointment comes as the coalition plans this week to pass a controversial law to hand itself control over key judicial appointments, as part of a broader, multi-point plan to increase political power at the expense of judiciary.

Russia says 3 hurt in blast caused by drone far from Ukraine border

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian authorities say a drone caused an explosion that injured three people in a town far from the border with Ukraine, but give no word on the drone’s origin.

The explosion occurred this afternoon in the town of Kireyevsk, in the Tula region about 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the border with Ukraine and 175 kilometers (110 miles) south of Moscow.

Russia’s state news agency RIA-Novosti cites local authorities as saying the explosion, which damaged some residential buildings, was caused by a drone but doesn’t immediately give further details.

The Latvia-based Russian news outlet Meduza reports that the blast left a crater about 15 meters (50 feet) in diameter and five meters deep (16 feet).

Ireland’s ex-justice minister says Israeli overhaul should ‘be put in cold storage’

FILE - In this file photo from June 14, 2013,  Ireland's then-Justice Minister Alan Shatter, poses during a meeting at Dublin Castle, Ireland.  (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)
FILE - In this file photo from June 14, 2013, Ireland's then-Justice Minister Alan Shatter, poses during a meeting at Dublin Castle, Ireland. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)

Former Irish justice minister Alan Shatter says Israel’s judicial overhaul legislation is “politicized, opportunistic, ill thought out [and] regressive,” and should “instantly be put in cold storage.”

Speaking today at a conference of the Israel Democracy Institute, Shatter argues that instead, a “consultative assembly” should be formed to draw up a comprehensive constitution that would respect the rule of law, incorporate checks and balances, and adopt “the values proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.”

Shatter, who served as Ireland’s justice minister from 2011 to 2014, also dismisses comparisons made by proponents of the government’s controversial legislation, which would give the coalition control over judicial appointments, to the Irish system.

He notes that in Ireland the large majority of members on its Judicial Appointments Advisory Board are either judges or legal professionals, and that even though in theory the government could appoint someone other than a candidate recommended by the board, such an appointment had never occurred.

The Israeli government’s proposals would give an automatic majority to the governing coalition on the Judicial Selection Committee, and likely allow it to control all lower court appointments and the large majority of Supreme Court appointments.

Shatter adds that a written constitution for Israel should “guarantee the independence of the judiciary, protect human rights, and prescribe the powers and legal relationship between the government, the Knesset and the courts, and the limits of those powers,” and ultimately be put to a referendum.

NATO calls Russian deployment of tactical nukes to Belarus ‘dangerous and irresponsible’

BRUSSELS — The NATO alliance condemns Russia’s announcement that it will deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus as “dangerous and irresponsible.”

But spokeswoman Oana Lungescu says the Western allies had not yet “seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own.”

UAE slams Israel over repeal of Disengagement Law for northern West Bank

The Palestinian village of Burqa is seen as an Israeli flag is placed in the Jewish West Bank outpost of Homesh, January 17, 2022. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
The Palestinian village of Burqa is seen as an Israeli flag is placed in the Jewish West Bank outpost of Homesh, January 17, 2022. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The United Arab Emirates condemns Israel’s passage of legislation repealing parts of the 2005 Disengagement Law relating to the evacuation of several northern West Bank settlements.

In a statement carried by the official WAM news agency, the Emirati foreign ministry stressed the UAE’s “rejection of all practices that violate resolutions on international legitimacy and threaten to further exacerbate escalation and instability in the region.”

It also called “to support all regional and international efforts to advance the peace process in the Middle East, as well as put an end to illegal practices that threaten the two-state solution and establish an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

Gantz to coalition: I’m committed to holding ‘good faith’ talks on judicial reform

Leader of the National Unity Party MK Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, March 20, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Leader of the National Unity Party MK Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, March 20, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Former defense minister Benny Gantz pens a letter to coalition members urging them to pause their judicial overhaul legislation until after Passover and several national holidays next month, to allow for negotiations on reforming the judiciary that will have broad public buy-in.

“I pledge, during this period, to enter negotiations in good faith and eagerness on all the issues, with the goal of reaching agreements that will safeguard democratic principles while bringing improvements and changes,” the National Unity party leader writes.

Gantz notes that to hammer out a deal, “both sides will be required to come toward each other and find creative solutions.”

The letter cites Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s call yesterday for a pause on legislating the radical proposals for shaking up the judicial system until after the end of the holidays in late April.

Halevi: IDF now has dual mission of ensuring security and keeping military united

IDF chief Herzi Halevi speaks to new conscripts at an induction center at the Tel Hashomer base in central Israel, March 26, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF chief Herzi Halevi speaks to new conscripts at an induction center at the Tel Hashomer base in central Israel, March 26, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Speaking at the military’s main induction center, IDF chief Herzi Halevi tells new recruits they are enlisting at a difficult period, both security-wise and amid tensions over the judicial overhaul.

“You are enlisting in a challenging security period,” Halevi says, noting threats from Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Syria, and Palestinian terrorism from the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

“During this period, service in the IDF is more meaningful. The people’s army takes on a different meaning these days, and each of you is enlisting in the IDF today with a dual mission. On one hand, to maintain the security of the country, and on the other, and no less important, to maintain the IDF as uniform, cohesive, and united,” Halevi tells the conscripts.

“Our strength comes when we are together, that’s the only way our country can prosper,” he adds.

Deputy AG criticizes ‘fundamental flaws’ in bill to return Deri to cabinet

Aryeh Deri speaks during a Shas party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Aryeh Deri speaks during a Shas party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A deputy to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara criticizes a bill aimed at allowing Shas chief Aryeh Deri to regain his ministerial posts, after the High Court struck down his appointment to the cabinet due to past criminal convictions.

At a hearing of a special Knesset committee as the bill is readied for its final plenum readings, Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon predicts the legislation will be struck by the High Court of Justice once passed into law.

“The law has fundamental flaws and create a black hole,” he says.

The proposal would eliminate court oversight of ministerial picks, paving the way for Deri’s return.

Head of doctors union urges Netanyahu to halt judicial overhaul: ‘Can no longer be silent’

Zion Hagay (Screenshot from YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Zion Hagay (Screenshot from YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The chairman of the Israel Medical Association, Prof. Zion Hagay, calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the judicial overhaul.

“We can no longer be silent,” Hagay says in a speech, according to Channel 13 news.

“Unfortunately we hear voices seeking to harm workers unions and weaken them,” he adds. “We won’t hesitate to take organizational measures in any case of harm of to the fundamental rights to patients and doctors.”

Hagay also warns of adverse mental health effects from the overhaul, while calling for Netanyahu to hold judicial reform talks with the aim of reaching an agreement with broad backing.

In letter to Blinken, Gulf Arab FMs slam Smotrich for remarks on Palestinians

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends breakfast with the foreign ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council nations during the 77th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 23, 2022. (David Dee Delgado/Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends breakfast with the foreign ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council nations during the 77th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 23, 2022. (David Dee Delgado/Pool Photo via AP)

As Israel’s relationships with its Arab partners show signs of turbulence, the foreign ministers of the six countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council send a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemning Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich for recent comments about Palestinians.

Smotrich said a week ago that the Palestinian people were “an invention” from the last century and that people like himself and his grandparents were the “real Palestinians.”

Earlier this month, the minister — a senior figure in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition — stirred international outrage after calling to “wipe out” a Palestinian town in the West Bank following a deadly Palestinian terror attack that killed two Israeli brothers, which was followed by a deadly settler rampage. He later walked back the comment and apologized.

The Ministerial Council – made up of the GCC foreign ministers – met in Riyadh and in their joint statement “condemned the racist statements of the Israeli Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, which called for the destruction of what remains of the Palestinian village of Hawara.”

They also blast Israel for “repeated incursions by Israeli settlers into the courtyards of the Holy Al Aqsa Mosque”; settlement construction; military raids in the West Bank; expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem; and “attempts to change [the] legal character, demographic composition, and arrangements for Islamic holy places.”

The letter urges Blinken to “respond to all measures and statements that target the Palestinian people,” according to the UAE-based The National.

Israel established full diplomatic ties with two GCC countries — the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — in 2020, and officials regularly express hope about the chances of normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia and Oman as well, though both countries have not shown any indication that they are about to make such a move. The organization body also includes Qatar and Kuwait.

2,000 mummified ram heads unearthed at Egyptian temple to Ramses II

This handout photo shows a mummified ram's head found a temple to Pharaoh Ramses II at Abydos, southern Egypt. (Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)
This handout photo shows a mummified ram's head found a temple to Pharaoh Ramses II at Abydos, southern Egypt. (Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)

CAIRO — Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered more than 2,000 ancient mummified sheep heads left as offerings in a temple to the pharaoh Ramses II, the tourism and antiquities ministry says.

Mummies of dogs, goats, cows, gazelles and mongooses were also exhumed by a team of US archaeologists from New York University at Abydos, a site in southern Egypt famous for its temples and tombs.

Sameh Iskandar, head of the American mission, says the ram heads were “offerings” indicating “a cult to Ramses II celebrated 1,000 years after his death.”

Ramses II reigned over Egypt for nearly seven decades, from 1304 to 1237 BCE, and was known as a great warrior and prolific builder who ordered the construction of temples across the country. He is commonly associated with the figure who was in power during the biblical Book of Exodus, which tells the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt after years of slavery, under the leadership of Moses.

Mostafa Waziri, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, says the finds will help people know more about the temple of Ramses II and the activities which took place there from its construction between 2374 and 2140 BCE and the Ptolemaic period, from 323 to 30 BCE.

As well as the remains of mummified animals, archaeologists discovered the remains of a palace with five-meter-thick (16 foot) walls dating to some 4,000 years ago.

They also found several statues, papyri, remains of ancient trees, leather clothes and shoes.

Abydos, which lies some 435 kilometers (270 miles) on the Nile river south of Cairo, is famed for its temples such as that of Seti I, as well as its necropolises.

Cairo regularly announces new archeological discoveries, which some suggest are made more for political and economic impact than their scientific or historic importance.

Egypt, home to some 105 million people, is mired in an economic crisis and relies on tourism for 10 precent of GPD, employing two million people.

Cairo hopes to revive tourism by targeting 30 million visitors a year by 2028, compared to 13 million before the coronavirus pandemic.

Critics, however, point to the dilapidated state of some archaeological sites and museums.

Daylight savings dispute divides Lebanon into separate time zones

BEIRUT — The Lebanese government’s last-minute decision to delay the start of daylight savings time by a month until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan resulted in mass confusion today.

With some institutions implementing the change while others refuse, many Lebanese have found themselves in the position of juggling work and school schedules in different time zones — in a country that is just 88 kilometers (55 miles) at its widest point.

In some cases, the debate is taking on a sectarian nature, with many Christian politicians and institutions, including the small nation’s largest church, the Maronite Church, rejecting the move.

The small Mediterranean country normally sets its clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday in March, which aligns with most European countries.

However, on Thursday Lebanon’s government announced a decision by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to push the start of daylight savings to April 21.

No reason was given for the decision, but a video of a meeting between Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri leaked to local media showed Berri asking Mikati to postpone the implementation of daylight savings time to allow Muslims to break their Ramadan fast an hour earlier.

PM given week to respond to petition calling to hold him in contempt of High Court

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves 10 Downing Street after a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London, March 24, 2023.(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves 10 Downing Street after a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London, March 24, 2023.(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

The High Court of Justice gives Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a week to respond to a petition filed today, which seeks to hold the premier in contempt of court for allegedly violating a conflict of interest agreement blocking him from involvement in the government’s judicial overhaul due to his ongoing corruption trial.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut says Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, too, must respond by April 2.

The decision came after the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, a fierce opponent of the overhaul, asked the court to force Netanyahu to obey the law and sanction him either with a fine or prison time for not doing so, saying he was not above the law.

“A prime minister who doesn’t obey the court and the provisions of the law is privileged and an anarchist,” said Eliad Shraga, the head of the group, echoing language used by Netanyahu and his allies against protesting opponents of the overhaul. “The prime minister will be forced to bow his head before the law and comply with the provisions of the law.”

AG’s representative warns of graft risk from bill to let officials keep gifts for legal fees

A Likud-sponsored bill to let public servants keep money gifted to cover their medical and legal fees “opens the door to corruption in the entire public service,” warns a representative for the attorney general.

Oren Fono, a senior official in the Legal Counsel and Legislative Affairs Department, tells the Knesset House Committee preparing the bill that it could cause “situations in which a public servant will receive favors because he is a public servant and will create dependence between public servants and their donors.”

Additionally, “a mechanism will be created that can be misused to disguise criminal offenses.” Fono points out that public servants may already accept such gifts from friends and family, provided that they do not take them in their capacities as public servants.

Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afek echoes these concerns, saying the proposal is “liable to create an inherent conflict of interest for Knesset members” and despite recent changes, “still constitutes a deviation from maintaining integrity.” Afek says that the bill may lead to “breaking down of the fortified wall behind which, until now, the legislature has fenced off the public’s trust.”

Tying the bill to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to retain a $270,000 gift from his late cousin for legal expenses amid his ongoing trial on graft charges, Fono further adds “the speed with which the bill is being advanced raises concerns that it is intended to benefit the prime minister personally.”

IDF says shots fired at Avnei Hefetz settlement; 1 treated for traumatic shock

A general view of the settlement Avnei Hefetz, east of Tulkarem, July 31, 2009 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
A general view of the settlement Avnei Hefetz, east of Tulkarem, July 31, 2009 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Shots were fired at the West Bank settlement of Avnei Hefetz earlier this morning, the military says.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, no damage was caused in the attack.

The Rescuers Without Borders emergency service says one person was treated at the scene for traumatic shock.

Israeli troops detain 4 Palestinians, seize arms in West Bank raids

A M16 rifle seized by Israeli forces in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank, March 26, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
A M16 rifle seized by Israeli forces in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank, March 26, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli forces detain four wanted Palestinians and seize firearms this morning during raids in the West Bank, the military says.

In the Nur Shams refugee camp, near the Palestinian city of Tulkarem, Border Police officers arrest three wanted men suspected of involvement in terror activities, and capture an M16 assault rifle.

Shooting was heard amid the operation in Nur Shams, but none of the officers are hurt, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Separately, soldiers arrest another wanted Palestinian and seize a handgun in Bayt Awa, near Hebron in the southern West Bank, the IDF says.

The four are taken to be questioned by the Shin Bet security agency.

2 Likud lawmakers clarify backing for overhaul legislation after call for pause

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 8, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 8, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Two lawmakers in the ruling Likud party who have called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pump the brakes on the judicial overhaul clarify that they will back the legislation if it’s brought up for a vote.

“The security and unity of the country are also before me,” Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter says in a statement. “To remove any doubt, my position remains as is: The reform to the judicial system is crucial and will be implemented.”

“I’m coordinated with on the matter with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin,” he adds.

The statement from Dichter comes amid reports that Netanyahu is considering him to replace Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who last night called for a pause on the push to radically change the judicial system, warning of dangers to Israel’s security.

Fellow Likud MK Eli Dellal clarifies that he too will back the legislation when brought to a vote, while noting his call to halt the bills until after the Knesset’s upcoming Passover recess.

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