Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces he is delaying his government’s divisive judicial overhaul push, following months of mass protests that reached their climax this week.
In a televised statement, Netanyahu says he is aware of the increased tensions in Israeli society and the will to solve them, but claims there is an “extremist minority” that is “tearing Israel apart,” threatening public figures and pushing for civil war.
Netanyahu demands a halt to the mounting refusals to serve in the IDF’s reserve forces. “Israel cannot exist without the IDF, and the IDF cannot exist with refusals to serve.” Refusals, he says, spell “the end of the state.”
He says he is “not willing to tear the country apart” and “there must not be civil war,” but “we are at the start of a crisis that endangers our basic unity” and “this crisis requires us all to act responsibly.”
The premier says he has repeatedly called for dialogue on the overhaul plan, and that he yesterday read a letter from National Unity party leader Benny Gantz “in which he promises to enter in good faith into a dialogue on all the issues. I know there are others who support that approach,” he says. “I stretch out my hand to them.”
He says “most” of his coalition allies support the move.
“When there’s an option to avoid civil war through dialogue, I as prime minister take a time-out for dialogue,” he says.
“Out of national responsibility,” he specifies, he is delaying the final readings of a divisive judicial appointments bill — under which the coalition would take almost complete control of the appointment of Israel’s judges — until the next Knesset session a month from now.
“We insist on the need to make the necessary corrections to the judicial system,” but this is “a chance to achieve this via dialogue.” To that end, “I have decided to suspend the second and third readings in this Knesset session” of the judicial selection bill “to give time for broad agreement” before moving ahead with the legislation in the next Knesset session.
He stresses that the overhaul will end up passing “in one form or another.” The “lost balance” between the branches of government will be restored, and individual rights will be strengthened, he says.
Turning to his supporters in what he calls the “national camp,” he notes that “we have the majority” to pass the legislation, “and huge support among the people.”
He mentions the large pro-overhaul demonstration being held nearby, alongside huge crowds of anti-government protesters. “I am proud of you, you are not second-class citizens,” he says. “You came out into the streets to make your voices heard,” he adds, calling the right-wing protest “spontaneous, not organized, not financed, not encouraged by the media.” He urges: “Continue to act responsibly and don’t be dragged into any provocation.”
“We won’t give up on the path we have fought for,” he says. “We will give a chance for wide agreement.”
He concludes by promising that the country will now together mark the forthcoming Passover, Remembrance Day and Independence Day, “for we all have the same destiny and the same purpose — to ensure eternal Israel.”
He makes no mention of his announcement last night that he was firing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, after Gallant warned publicly that the rift over the overhaul legislation has become a tangible threat to national security.