Netanyahu Halts Controversial Judicial Reform Following Mass Protests and Strike in Israel

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Netanyahu Halts Controversial Judicial Reform Following Mass Protests and Strike in Israel

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has halted a controversial judicial overhaul that had led to a general strike, political divisions, and mass protests in the country. The move came after nearly three months of increasing tensions, with tens of thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets in Jerusalem to protest against the proposed reforms, which would reduce the powers of the Supreme Court and give politicians greater control over the selection of judges. Critics argue that the changes would undermine Israeli democracy.

The strike, which was called by the Histadrut trade union confederation, affected hospitals, flights, and even diplomatic missions. The Israel Medical Association joined the strike, calling for a “full strike in the health system” that affected all public hospitals, though life-saving treatments continued. Diplomatic staff also walked out, with the US embassy in Israel announcing its closure “until further notice”.

The reforms had sparked concern from Israel’s allies, including the United States. President Joe Biden had reportedly told Netanyahu that “democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship”. Outgoing defence minister Yoav Gallant had also called for a halt to the legislative process, citing national security concerns.

Despite the upheaval, Israel’s national security minister urged right-wing supporters to join a counter-protest in Jerusalem backing the judicial shake-up. Meanwhile, opposition leader Yair Lapid accused the government of “a hostile takeover by a messianic, nationalist and anti-democratic group”.

The architect of the overhaul, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, said he would “accept any decision that Prime Minister Netanyahu makes” on the legislation. Lawmakers had been scheduled to vote this week on a central part of the proposals, which would change the way judges are appointed, but this has now been postponed.

Netanyahu, who faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, had vowed last week to “responsibly advance” the reforms and “end the rift” they had caused. However, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara accused him of “illegal” public intervention on the process of adopting the judicial reforms, citing potential conflicts of interest due to his ongoing trial.

The crisis in Israel highlights the ongoing struggle between democracy and authoritarianism in many parts of the world. As countries grapple with issues such as the rule of law, freedom of speech, and the separation of powers, it is vital that citizens remain vigilant and hold their leaders accountable to uphold democratic values.

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