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Defence minister calls for pause to reforms as Israelis protest

Tens of thousands of Israelis have rallied in Tel Aviv against a controversial judicial overhaul, as Defence Minister Yoav Gallant broke ranks to call for a pause to the government reforms.

The latest demonstration to hit Israel’s commercial hub on Saturday came days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to press on with the changes despite mounting international alarm.

But his defence minister said that “we must stop the legislative process” for a month.

“Victory by one of the sides, on the city streets or in the Knesset’s (parliament’s) halls, is a loss for the State of Israel,” he said in a speech.

Gallant called for the halt before lawmakers are due to vote next week on a central part of the government’s proposals, which would change the way judges are appointed.

Demonstrations erupted in January after the coalition announced its reform package, which the government says is necessary to rebalance powers between lawmakers and the judiciary.

“We’re here today to show up and add our voice to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Israelis that support the values that this country was founded on,” said high-tech worker Daniel Nisman, mentioning democracy and tolerance.

“This is all we can hope for, that he (Netanyahu) brings us back from the edge of the abyss,” the 36-year-old told AFP news agency.

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‘Very upsetting’

“The laws that are being passed right now are laws that are aimed to make the government essentially the sole ruler and destroy the separation of powers,” said Daphne Oren-Magidor, another protester at a Jerusalem rally.

Thousands of demonstrators marched past the residency of President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem, where demonstrator Harriet Scher had an Israeli flag wrapped around her shoulders.

“It’s been very upsetting for our country,” said the 80-year-old.

Plans to hand more control to politicians and diminish the role of the Supreme Court have been questioned by Israel’s top allies including the United States.

US President Joe Biden has expressed “our concerns over these proposals, these proposed judicial reforms”, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday.

Netanyahu was also met by hundreds of protesters in London, where he met his British counterpart Rishi Sunak on Friday.

During the talks, the British premier “stressed the importance of upholding the democratic values that underpin our relationship, including in the proposed judicial reforms”, a spokesperson said.

READ MORE: Israel makes arrests as thousands protest amendment to Basic Law

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