More than 100,000 Israelis protested outside the Knesset in Jerusalem today, as tens of thousands of others took to the streets at separate rallies nationwide, amid a general strike called by the largest labor union and entities in the private sector.
By Erin Viner
Marking the first such action in the nation’s history, medical facilities, local and regional councils, universities and other institutions declared a general strike alongside the Histadrut Labor Union.
The sectors joined forces in a widescale show of solidarity against the government’s judicial reform plan, in addition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last night for warning of repercussions to Israel’s security if the proposal is passed by the parliament.
The nation has been gripped by weekly and increasingly raucous nationwide demonstrations when just days after taking office, the Netanyahu coalition introduced a sweeping “reform of governance” to limit Supreme Court rulings against government moves or Knesset laws, while increasing politicians’ input over nominations to the bench.
Israel’s right-wing 37th government, an alliance between the Premier’s Likud party with several smaller religious and hard-right nationalist factions, asserts it holds the mandate for changes, deemed necessary to curb overreach by activist judges and restore balance between the legislative, executive and judiciary.
Proponents say the plan would rein in Supreme Court overreach and restore balance between the branches of government.
The court’s defenders say it plays a vital role in holding the government to account in a country that has no formal constitution, and that the government’s overhaul would weaken the courts, endanger civil liberties and harm the economy. The proposal has drawn fierce condemnation from Opposition Members of Knesset (MKs), legal officials, military reservists and advocacy groups – further broadening already deep political divisions in Israeli society.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is himself on trial on corruption charges which he denies, has dismissed the protests as refusal by leftist adversaries to accept the results of the 1 November’s election which resulted in one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history. He has ardently defended the judicial overhaul.
Gallant was the most senior member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party to say he would not back the judicial overhaul, pointing to the impact rising numbers of military reservists refusing duty are also affecting regular forces and undermining national security.
“Citizens of Israel, the security of the State of Israel is my life’s mission. Over the course of my entire adult life, I have dealt with Israel’s security day in and day out. Clothed in the IDF’s uniform, I have risked my life dozens of times for the State of Israel,” said Lieutenant General Gallant, stressing, “And at this time, for the sake of our country, I am willing to take any risk and pay any price.”
(See Outgoing Defense Minister Gallant’s full speech below).
Netanyahu responded almost immediately by issuing a curt statement announcing dismissal of his administration’s top defense official.
A key bill of the reform is expected to be brought for ratification this week in the Knesset, where he and his allies wield 64 out of 120 seats.
But how – or even whether – that as yet-unscheduled vote will proceed has been thrown into question by Likud dissenters.
The Prime Minister had announced he would give a nationwide address this morning, which was delayed indefinitely.
Full Text of Outgoing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s Statement to the Press
Before I begin my remarks,
I would like to express my wishes for a speedy recovery to the victims of the attack that took place this evening, and extend my support to their family members.
Our soldiers stand guard day and night, and I fully support them.
Israel’s defense establishment will face the terrorists [responsible for this attack].
Citizens of Israel, the security of the State of Israel is my life’s mission. Over the course of my entire adult life, I have dealt with Israel’s security day in and day out. Clothed in the IDF’s uniform, I have risked my life dozens of times for the State of Israel. And at this time, for the sake of our country, I am willing to take any risk and pay any price.
By virtue of my duties as the Minister of Defense of the State of Israel, I stand before you and emphasize: We face great threats – both near and far. Iran is closer than ever to gaining military, nuclear capabilities. Palestinian terrorism is increasing. The northern arena is tense. These days, more than ever, we face unprecedented security challenges.
The IDF is an excellent military – decisive and precise in its operations. It is a source of pride for those in service and for the entire nation of Israel. Together, we can take on any challenge, at any time. Yet over the past several weeks, something serious has happened. I meet with commanders and soldiers. Prior to operations, during military tours, during exercises, and in briefing rooms. I hear their voices, and I am worried. The events taking place and the issues in Israeli society do not skip the Israel Defense Forces. Unprecedented feelings of anger, pain and disappointment have risen. And I see the source of our strength eroding. As Minister of Defense of the State of Israel, I emphasize, The growing rift in our society is penetrating the IDF and security agencies. This poses a clear, immediate, and tangible threat to the security of the state. I will not allow this.
I am a “right-wing” person, a member of the Likud movement. I believe in its principles, and I am committed to its values – Placing the State of Israel above all.
Tonight, I repeat, as I have been saying for years, that we need to see a change in the justice system. The ties between the judiciary branch, the government and the Knesset require balance. [This balance] will strengthen our democracy and it will increase the public’s confidence [in our institutions]. Yet, significant, national changes are achieved through dialogue. This evening I am thinking of the generation of the founders of Israel. I think of my mother Fruma – a holocaust survivor who immigrated to Israel onboard the Exodus. I think of my wife, Claudine’s parents, who immigrated to Israel from Morocco – travelling difficult paths. We must not harm our unity. There must be no doubt in the hearts of the mothers, who will be sending their sons and daughters to serve in the IDF.
The victory of a single side, whether it be in the halls of the Knesset or on the streets of our cities, will lead to a loss for the State of Israel. We must set aside the questions, “who started it” and “who’s right.” And [instead] initiate a unifying national process with broad participation, a process that will strengthen the State of Israel and preserve the strength of the IDF.
In recent days and weeks, during conversations and discussions behind the scenes, I presented the security situation [to various parties], I asked, reasoned, and said that, at this time, the process must be stopped, so that we may sit and talk.
But now, I declare loudly and publicly, for the sake of Israel’s security, for the sake of our sons and daughters – the legislative process should be stopped in order to enable the nation of Israel to celebrate Passover and Independence Day together, and to mourn together on Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day. These are holy days for us.
We need to stop the protests, and reach out to each other, conducting dialogue. Any refusal to serve in our military should be stopped immediately – as it erodes the power of the IDF and harms our defense establishment.
For the sake of our security, for our unity, it is our duty to conduct dialogue, and to remember that we are in fact one nation, brothers, and sisters. May G*d strengthen his people and may G*D bless his people with peace. Thank you.