Israel’s Defense Minister Implores Reform Pause as Protests Persist

People attend a demonstration, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist coalition government presses on with its judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 25, 2023.

TEL AVIV (AFP-Jiji) — Tens of thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday against a controversial judicial overhaul, as Defense Minister Yoav Galant broke ranks to call for a pause to the government reforms.

The latest demonstration to hit Israel’s commercial hub came days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to press on with the changes despite mounting international alarm.

But his defense minister said Saturday that “we must stop the legislative process” for a month in view of the divisiveness of the reforms.

“The growing social rift has made its way into the [army] and security agencies. It is a clear, immediate and tangible threat to Israel’s security,” said Galant, who is a member of Netanyahu’s own right-wing Likud party.

“I am committed to Likud values … and placing the State of Israel above all … but major changes on the national level must be made through deliberations and dialogue,” he added.

His comments were welcomed by opposition leader Yair Lapid who hailed a “brave and vital step for Israel’s security.”

Galant called for the halt before lawmakers are due to vote next week on a central part of the government’s proposals, which would change the way judges are appointed.

Two other Likud lawmakers tweeted their support for Galant, raising questions over whether the government could count on a majority if it pushes ahead with a vote.

The Tel Aviv protest swelled Saturday to around 200,000 demonstrators, according to Israeli media estimates.

“We’re here today to show up and add our voice to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Israelis that support the values that this country was founded on,” said high-tech worker Daniel Nisman, mentioning democracy and tolerance.

“This is all we can hope for, that he [Netanyahu] brings us back from the edge of the abyss,” the 36-year-old told AFP.