Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary was facing mounting opposition on Monday, with the country’s ceremonial president urging for an immediate halt to the changes.
Israel’s ceremonial President Isaac Herzog urged Netanyahu to immediately halt the overhaul, calling on the government to put aside political considerations for the sake of the nation.
“The entire nation is rapt with deep worry. Our security, economy, society — all are under threat,” he said. “Wake up now!”
His comment came as tens of thousands of people burst into the streets around the country on Sunday in a spontaneous show of anger at Netanyahu’s decision to fire Israel’s defence minister after he called for the changes to be halted.
Universities countrywide shut their doors in protest and trade unions were expected to call for a general strike.
The legal reforms have sparked one of Israel’s gravest domestic crises, drawing widespread opposition from business leaders, legal officials and even the country’s military.
An uneasy calm returned to the country’s streets on Monday after a raucous night of protests where tens of thousands of demonstrators lit bonfires on Tel Aviv’s main highway, blocking the major throughway as well as others throughout the country.
Netanyahu’s dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant appeared to signal that the prime minister and his allies will barrel ahead this week with the overhaul plan.
Gallant had been the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out against it, saying the deep divisions were threatening to weaken the military.
Beyond the protests, universities across the country closed down “until further notice” in protest at the government’s insistence to push forward on the plan.
A trade union umbrella group was expected to announce that it was joining the protesters and was reportedly set to announce a general strike.
Netanyahu pushing ahead with reform
Netanyahu’s government still appeared to be forging on with a parliamentary vote this week on a centrepiece of the overhaul — a law that would give the governing coalition the final say over all judicial appointments.
It also seeks to pass laws that would grant parliament the authority to overturn Supreme Court decisions and limit judicial review of laws.
Netanyahu and his allies say the plan will restore a balance between the judicial and executive branches and rein in what they see as an interventionist court with liberal sympathies.
But critics say the laws will remove Israel’s system of checks and balances and concentrate power in the hands of the governing coalition.
They also say that Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, has a conflict of interest.