JERUSALEM, Israel – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation Monday night and put his government's judicial reform legislation on hold until after the month-long Knesset Passover recess. Some are saying the long assault by those opposing reform caused a deep division within the country, bordering on civil war. Meanwhile, the prime minister's political and media adversaries blame the fight on him.
In his address, Netanyahu said he wanted to avoid splitting the nation in two.
"When there's an opportunity to avoid civil war through dialogue, I, as prime minister, am taking a timeout for dialogue," he said. "I give a real opportunity for a real dialogue. We insist on the need to bring about the necessary corrections in the legal system and we are given an opportunity to achieve a broad consensus. This is a very worthy goal."
After the address, Israeli President Isaac Herzog asked Netanyahu and opposition leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid to work together to find a compromise. They agreed.
Gantz, the National Unity Party leader, said, "We will show up at the President's Residence, we will extend our hand. I call on Netanyahu to take away the threats, ultimatums and extreme statements that keep us away from the goal. Stop everything and send the relevant teams (to the President's Residence). We will work to strengthen democracy, improve governance, maintain the independence of the judicial system.”
The White House applauded Netanyahu's decision. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters, "Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support. And so that's what we're going to continue to call for."
Yet, proponents of the legislation said the reforms were designed to bring a check and balance to what they called Israel's "runaway judiciary," arguing that the judicial system has had little or no restraint on it for decades.
Many supporters saw the nearly 12 weeks of street protests that shut down traffic, airport departures, banking and grocery shopping as an attempt not just to win the debate over judicial reform, but to topple the government, with accusations that it was bringing about the end of Israeli democracy and replacing it with dictatorship.
Author, columnist, and commentator Caroline Glick, who has observed domestic quarrels in the country for more than 25 years, noted that the acrimony produced in 2023 might be even greater than during the aftermath of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in 1995. “I don’t remember that at the time that the levels of hatred were this violent, were this, supported by the media, were driven by the media.”
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Glick believes the intense internal strife puts Israel in peril, in light of Israel's number one threat in the region: Iran.
“Because people who don't want Israel to take action against Iran – of all stripes and sciences – would want Israel to be submerged in domestic rioting, and discord, to make it impossible as a practical matter for the army, for the government, for our intelligence arms to concentrate and focus on the task at hand, which is taking out a sufficient percentage of Iran's nuclear capabilities … to keep them from getting a nuclear arsenal," she explained.
As Israelis look forward to celebrating the Passover and the miracle of the Israelites' deliverance from their slavery in Egypt, many hope and pray Israel's leaders will experience a deliverance from one of the worst domestic crises in the history of modern Israel.
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