Netanyahu says judicial overhaul on ice after general strike paralyses Israel

Netanyahu says judicial overhaul on ice after general strike paralyses Israel
6 min read
27 March, 2023
Israel's prime minister has said his controversial plans for the judiciary have been paused.
Netanyahu has been forced to put his plans for a judicial overhaul on ice [Getty]

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that his controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary will be paused after mass protests and strikes paralysed the country.

The announcement comes after weeks of protests against the proposed reforms, which are backed by the right but stongly opposed by many Israelis.

Critics argue the legal change will cement Netanyahu's rule and bolster the extreme right's power.

As a general strike was launched in Israel on Monday, with threats of potentially violent counter-protests from the right, Netanyahu said the judiciary reforms would be put on ice, for now.

"Out of a sense of national responsibility, out of a will to prevent a rupture among our people, I have decided to pause the second and third readings of the bill," he said.

He added he would delay consideration of the bill to the next session of parliament which begins in the second half of April.

The US said it welcomed the move, which comes after mounting pressure on Netanyahu from Israel's traditional allies to pause the overhaul.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also "praised" the move, highlighting the importance of "checks and balances" after a visit by the Israeli PM to London last week.

"The UK welcomes the decision today by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pause legislation to reform Israel’s judiciary," Cleverly said in a statement.

"It is vital that the shared democratic values that underpin that (UK-Israel) relationship are upheld, and a robust system of checks and balances are preserved."

Unprecedented protests were launched to counter the extremist coalition from moving forward with the controversial judicial overhaul with airports and other essential infrastructure closed.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Monday called for an immediate halt to the government's controversial plans, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sacked his defence minister for similar demands and mass protests were held across Israel.

On Monday afternoon, protests are ongoing blocking major highways and occupying city centres, and are due to continue into the evening.

Live Story

"For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of the necessary responsibility, I call on you to halt the legislative process immediately," Herzog said in a statement.

Protesters have blocked roads, commenced wildcat strikes and shut down major transport links across the country in an attempt to bring the country to a halt.

But with Likud party members saying they may not support the overhaul further in the Knesset, the Israeli government finds itself at a dangerous impasse just three months into office. 

The far-right Otzma Yehudit ("Jewish Power") party, which has member of the ruling coalition, has urged Netanyahu to press ahead with legislation while others in the extreme right have threatened counter-protests, or even violence, if the bill is paused. 



5:35 PM
The New Arab Staff

Netanyahu's statement is expected at 18:05 BST - just past 8pm in Isreal. 

This concludes TNA's live blog coverage of anti-government protests in Israel - we'll be back in the morning. In the meantime, please follow us on Twitter for breaking developments.

4:33 PM
The New Arab Staff

Netanyahu in Knesset to make statement

Netanyahu has finally entered the Knesset to make a statement, after Ben-Gvir's Otzma Yehudit party have announced their agreement to allow the overhaul to be paused until the next Knesset session - which commences in May. 

More to follow on the announcement shortly. 

3:27 PM
The New Arab Staff

Palestinians "indifferent" to protest movement

For those who have felt the injustice of Israel's judicial system for decades, the current protest movement sweeping Israel is viewed with ambivalence. 

Azzam Abu Souod, 75, a Palestinian from occupied East Jerusalem, told TNA that most Palestinians are "indifferent" to the wave of protests sweeping the country because they "won't affect relations between Israelis and Palestinians." 

"The Israeli Judicial [system] was not fair to us in the past and won't be after the judicial changes," said Abu Souod.

Many see the protests as a disagreement within a status quo which upholds the oppression of Palestinian freedom. 

"This will end one way or the other. There will be a compromise, but the occupation will remain and that’s why we’re here. I hope people will realise," Rita, an Israeli protestor, told TNA's correspondent Ibrahim Husseini.


Crowds continue to gather throughout Monday [TNA/Ibrahim Husseini]
3:24 PM
The New Arab Staff

Israeli embassy staff walk out worldwide

From London to Washington D.C., Israeli diplomatic staff have been told to down tools by their union, the Histadrut. 

Embassy spokesperson Elad Strohmayer said "The Embassy of Israel will be closed today until further notice and no consular services will be provided."

"Today the Histadrut, Israel's largest labor union, instructed all government employees to go on strike, including Israel’s diplomatic missions around the world," Strohmayer said. 

3:11 PM
The New Arab Staff

Opposition figures speak to protestors

Thousands have gathered outside the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to continue the pressure on lawmakers looking to keep the judicial overhaul plans on their feet. 

Opposition leaders, including Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, have been speaking to protestors from a temporary podium and big screen outside. 

"Whoever doesn't protect his country won't have a country, and you are protecting our country," said Gantz this afternoon. 


Former PM Yair Lapid speaks to protestors [Getty images]
2:28 PM
The New Arab Staff

Ben Gvir 'mulling over' quitting Israeli coalition

Extremist national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir is considering his resignation from government, according to Israeli news site Times of Israel. 

Stopping the judicial overhaul plans in their tracks is "likely" to topple the fragile governing coalition, according to Otzma Yehudit, Ben Gvir's political party. 

Ben-Gvir has been a staunch supporter of the judicial overhaul [Getty images]
1:00 PM
The New Arab Staff

Right-wing extremists call for retaliatory violence

Pro-government social media is increasingly awash with violent rhetoric inciting counter protests and attacks on protestors, including infamously racist football firm La Familia. 

Some activists have called on their followers to use whatever they can - including 'tractors, guns and knives' - to stop anti-government protestors from keeping the country at a standstill. 

La Familia said on social media that they "will not remain silent anymore" or "give up on the country," saying that they will march on the Knesset in Jerusalem this evening. 

Israeli news site Haaretz have quoted police sources saying they expect clashes across the country through the evening. 

12:48 PM

Netanyahu breaks silence

For the first time since last night's mass protests, embattled prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken publicly - releasing a short statement on twitter, calling for all demonstrators to "behave responsibly and not act violently", saying that Israelis are a "brotherly people". 

No confirmation, however, of reports that the judicial overhaul will be officially paused. 

12:46 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Port workers join strikes across Israel

Two main ports in Israel announced on Monday that they had stopped work in adherence to a labour strike in protest at the religious-nationalist government's judicial overhaul joining airport workers and others across the public sector.

Haifa and Ashdod ports said in separate statements that work was halted after Israel's main labour union announced a general strike earlier on Monday until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped judicial legislation.

11:35 AM
The New Arab Staff

Schools, banks and even Ben Gurion airport have been shut by the most recent protests, which are set to continue today. 

Here's the full story from The New Arab correspondent Ibrahim Husseini: 

Live Story
11:32 AM
The New Arab Staff

Economy Minister Nir Barkat has tweeted for ministers to "unite behind the prime minister and support him in pausing the legislation":

11:31 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Israel's justice minister said on Monday he would respect any decision Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes about the future of a bitterly contested judicial overhaul, adding that lack of unity in the government could bring it down.

"A situation in which everyone does as they wish is liable to bring about the instant fall of the government and collapse of the (ruling party) Likud," Yariv Levin said in a statement. "We must all strive to stabilise the government and coalition."

Reporting by Reuters