Netanyahu survives no-confidence vote on judicial reform

JERUSALEM – MARCH 27: Israelis carrying Israeli flags and anti-government placards gather in front of the Knesset to protest the Israeli government’s plan to introduce judicial changes.

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The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu survived a no-confidence vote in the Knesset, the country’s parliament, amid what may be the largest wave of demonstrations in Israel’s history.

Mass protests are rocking Israel, and the country’s largest labor union on Monday announced a major strike against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s months-long attempt to push through widely derided judicial reforms that opponents say would pull the country toward autocracy.

“Stop this court case before it’s too late,” Arnon Bar-David, Israel’s leader of the Histadrut union, said in a televised address, addressing Netanyahu directly. The Histadrut – which, with 800,000 members, represents the majority of Israeli trade unionists – declared a “historic” general strike to “stop this judicial revolution, this madness,” Bar-David said.

Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said Monday the government must proceed with reforms.

“Judicial reform must not be stopped and we must not give in to anarchy,” he said on Twitter, according to a Google translation.

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Flights from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv have been suspended as airport workers go on strike and workers at the port of Haifa – the largest in Israel – have also suspended work. McDonald’s Israel says it has closed stores as part of the strike action.

Protests have taken place across Israel for the past four months, sparked by anger over controversial judicial reforms being pushed by Netanyahu’s government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history. The planned restructuring would significantly weaken the country’s judiciary and make it more difficult to remove Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, from power.

The proposed reforms would give the executive branch control over the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and give the government the power to overturn court decisions by parliamentary majority.

Monday’s demonstrations took on a new fervor and are said to have been the largest yet, sparked by Netanyahu’s sacking of his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, for speaking out against the proposed measures. Local news outlets report that a whopping 600,000 people across the country have come out to protest.

“600,000 demonstrators is an extraordinary number. That means about 6.5% of the Israeli population is demonstrating tonight, many literally waking up from their beds to hear Bibi Gallant fired,” said Monica Marks, Middle East politics professor at NYU Abu Dhabi . wrote on Twitter. “When was the last time 6+% of a country protested? Real question.”

Netanyahu has described the protests as an attempt to “create anarchy” and trigger new elections. A deeply divided Israel has held five snap elections since April 2019.

“We’ve never been this close to falling apart,” Israel’s former Prime Minister Yair Lapid told lawmakers Monday.

“What has happened here in the last 24 hours is madness, it’s a loss of control and a loss of direction… It’s proof that this government has lost its brakes,” he said, urging Netanyahu to roll back his shots at his defense minister.

“It’s a threat to the State of Israel, it’s a threat to Israel’s security. Our home is in danger,” added Lapid.

Earlier Monday, President Isaac Herzog – whose position is largely ceremonial and apolitical – took to Twitter to urge the government to pause its judicial review.

“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I urge you to stop the legislative process immediately,” he said, according to a Google translation.

“I appeal to the leaders of all Knesset factions, coalition and opposition alike, to put the country’s citizens above all else and act responsibly and boldly immediately. Come to your senses now! This is not a political moment, this is a moment for leadership and responsibility.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office announced the sacking of Defense Secretary Yoav Gallant, who opposed the motion, prompting escalating protests.

“We must all stand firm against denials,” Netanyahu said on Twitter around the time of the announcement, without directly referring to Gallant.

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