JERUSALEM: Israeli President Isaac Herzog urged the government on Monday to halt its bitterly contested judicial overhaul, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sacked his defense minister for opposing the move, sparking mass street protests.
“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” Herzog said on Twitter.
The warning from the head of state who is supposed to stand above politics and whose function is largely ceremonial, underlined the alarm the divisions opened up by the proposals has caused. It followed a dramatic night of protests in cities across Israel, with tens of thousands pouring out on the streets following Netanyahu’s announcement that he had dismissed Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
A day earlier, Gallant had made a televised appeal for the government to halt its flagship overhaul of the judicial system, warning that the deep split it had opened up in Israeli society was affecting the military and threatening national security.
Three months after it took power as one of the most right-wing governments in the country’s history, Gallant’s removal has plunged Netanyahu’s national-religious coalition into crisis, during a deepening security emergency in the occupied West Bank.
The judicial overhaul, which would give the executive control over appointing judges to the Supreme Court and allow the government to over-ride court rulings on the basis of a simple parliamentary majority has drawn mass protests for weeks.
While the government says the overhaul is needed to rein in activist judges and set a proper balance between the elected government and the judiciary, opponents see it as an undermining of legal checks and balances and a threat to Israel’s democracy.
Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges that he denies, has so far vowed to continue with the project and a central part of the overhaul package, a bill that would tighten political control over judicial appointments, is due to be ratified in parliament this week.
He is expected to make a statement later on Monday.
As well as drawing opposition from the business establishment, the project has caused alarm among Israel’s allies. The United States said it was deeply concerned by Sunday’s events and saw an urgent need for compromise, while repeating calls to safeguard democratic values.