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The Israeli government temporarily backed off from a planned judicial reform Monday, just hours before it was to go to a vote after protesters threatened to shut down the country in one of the largest strikes in years, Reuters reported.
“Out of national responsibility, from a desire to prevent the nation from being torn apart, I am calling to suspend the legislation,” said Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. “When there is a possibility to prevent a civil war through negotiations, I will give a time-out for negotiations.”
Israeli universities, workers’ unions, hospitals, banks, seaports, malls and Israel’s national carrier, El Al, had announced a general strike, and the international airport terminated outgoing flights. However, the strike was called off in light of Netanyahu’s delay, the Wall Street Journal noted.
Tens of thousands of protesters from around the country had flooded into Jerusalem to express their fury over the plan they say undermines Israel’s democracy.
A number of Israeli diplomatic missions abroad also shuttered their embassies and consulates to protest against the government’s judicial reform, according to Haaretz.
Monday’s unrest marked the latest escalating opposition to the judicial overhaul, which would give the government and lawmakers more power in appointing judges, as well as allow parliament to overrule the country’s Supreme Court.
Since its proposal earlier this year, Netanyahu and his conservative coalition have faced large-scale demonstrations and criticism from the opposition.
Officials have said the overhaul is aimed at creating a proper balance between the elected government and the unelected judiciary. But opponents warned that the changes would undermine Israel’s legal checks and balances.
On Sunday, Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after he called for the government to halt the controversial reform, worried over the military’s readiness to fight threats: Reservists and other members of the military have also been protesting the reform plan.
That decision sparked overnight protests across a number of Israeli cities Monday.
Meanwhile, the political crisis also drew the rare intervention of Israel’s head of state, President Isaac Herzog, who called on the government to “stop the legislative process immediately.”
Analysts explained that a warning by the president – whose function is largely ceremonial and is supposed to stand above politics – underscores the alarm caused by the proposals.
The government said they would delay the vote on the reform plan until next month.