September 24, 2023

Israel’s defense minister became the first ally in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to break ranks on Saturday as he called for an immediate halt to the far-right government’s controversial plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant said the plan had caused turmoil within the Israeli military and posed a threat to the country’s security.

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Citing the need for dialogue with the opposition, Gallant asked Netanyahu’s coalition to wait until parliament resumes from its recess next month before pushing ahead with his divisive plan to undermine the Supreme Court.

“For the safety of Israel, for the sake of our sons and daughters, the legislative process must be halted at this time,” Gallant said in a snap televised address on Saturday after the end of the Jewish Sabbath.

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The government’s plan to increase its control over the judiciary has sparked a national crisis and triggered the largest protest movement in Israel’s history.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets on Saturday, as in the last three months. The proposal has drawn sharp criticism from throughout Israeli society – including former prime ministers and defense officials, high-tech business leaders, Israel’s attorney general and prominent American Jews.

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In recent weeks, discontent about the overhaul has also grown within Israel’s military, the country’s most popular and respected institution, which has historically been a non-political unifier.

A growing number of Israeli reservists have threatened to withdraw from voluntary duty in the past weeks, posing a formidable challenge to Netanyahu as he moves forward with reforms while on trial for corruption.

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Gallant said, “The events taking place in Israeli society do not spare the Israel Defense Forces – from all sides, feelings of anger, pain and despair arise, with an intensity I have never encountered before.” “I see how the source of our strength is eroding.”

In security-minded Israel, the unrest has raised concerns about the stability of the Israeli military as it maintains its 55-year-old occupation of the West Bank and faces threats from Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group and its arch-enemy Iran. does.

“This is a clear, immediate and tangible threat to the security of the state,” he said. “I will not participate in this.”

However, Gallant did not say what he would do if the government ignored his plea.

Their disagreement marks the first rift in Netanyahu’s coalition, the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.

In the first phase of the overhaul earlier this week, Netanyahu’s parliamentary coalition approved legislation that would protect the Israeli leader from being deemed unfit to govern because of his lawsuit and claims of conflict of interest. Critics say the law is tailor-made for Netanyahu and promotes corruption.

Israel’s attorney general issued a scathing rebuke on Friday, warning that Netanyahu had broken the law by declaring his direct involvement in the overhaul while facing criminal charges.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister in his fourth term, is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals involving wealthy allies and powerful media moguls.

He denies wrongdoing and dismisses critics who say his government can find a way to escape charges through legal reform.

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Proponents of Israel’s ongoing judicial overhaul say it will restore power to elected legislators and make the courts less intrusive. Critics say the move erodes Israel’s system of checks and balances and pushes it towards autocracy.