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Herzog urges Netanyahu to stop judicial reforms as mass protests hit Israel

Israeli President Isaac Herzog has urged the government to halt its bitterly contested judicial overhaul. 

“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” Herzog said on Twitter on Monday morning.

He was speaking a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed his defence minister for opposing the move, sparking mass street protests.

The warning from the head of state, who is supposed to stand above politics and whose function is largely ceremonial, underlined the alarm the divisions opened up by the proposals has caused.

It followed a dramatic night of protests in cities across Israel, with tens of thousands pouring out on the streets following Netanyahu’s announcement that he had dismissed Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

A day earlier, Gallant had made a televised appeal for the government to halt its flagship overhaul of the judicial system, warning that the deep split it had opened up in Israeli society was affecting the military and threatening national security.

Three months after it took power as one of the most right-wing governments in the country’s history, Gallant’s removal has plunged Netanyahu’s national-religious coalition into crisis, during a deepening security emergency in the occupied West Bank. 

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The judicial overhaul, which would give the executive control over appointing judges to the Supreme Court and allow the government to override court rulings on the basis of a simple parliamentary majority has drawn mass protests for weeks.

While the government says the overhaul is needed to rein in activist judges and set a proper balance between the elected government and the judiciary, opponents see it as an undermining of legal checks and balances and a threat to Israel’s democracy.

Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges that he denies, has so far vowed to continue with the project and a central part of the overhaul package, a bill that would tighten political control over judicial appointments, is due to be ratified in parliament this week.

He is expected to make a statement later on Monday.

As well as drawing opposition from the business establishment, the project has caused alarm among Israel’s allies.

The United States is deeply concerned by events in Israel and “strongly urges” leaders there to find a compromise as soon as possible, a White House spokesperson said on Sunday.

“We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible.

“We believe that is the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

Israeli PM Netanyahu dismisses defence chief Yoav Gallant

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