Months of protests have erupted in Israel over proposed judicial changes by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which critics say will undermine the country’s justice system. Israeli President Isaac Herzog has called for an immediate halt to the government’s controversial reform plans, citing the need for unity and responsibility. This comes after Netanyahu fired his Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for calling on the government to halt the proposed changes, leading to tens of thousands of people taking to the streets in Tel Aviv to protest Gallant’s dismissal.
The crisis began in November 2019 when Netanyahu was charged with fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes after a three-year investigation. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charged Netanyahu after investigating reports of him accepting gifts from millionaire friends and allegedly seeking regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage. Netanyahu denies the allegations and pleads not guilty as the trial continues.
In June 2021, centrist Israeli politician Yair Lapid successfully put together an unusual coalition of liberals, right-wing and Arab parties, removing Netanyahu from power after more than 12 years as prime minister, with far-right leader Naftali Bennett replacing him. However, in November 2022, Netanyahu’s Likud party, together with a coalition of far-right parties, won the fifth Israeli election since 2019, leading to his inauguration as prime minister in December.
Days after taking power, Netanyahu’s justice minister unveiled a plan to change the country’s judicial system, which critics slam as an attempt to weaken Israel’s judiciary and escape his corruption trial. The plan would give the government greater control over appointing Supreme Court judges. Netanyahu says the changes are needed to curb activist judges who overreach their powers to interfere in politics.
On January 14, thousands of Israelis protested against the proposal in several cities, with some 80,000 protesters coming out in Tel Aviv. The government dismissed the protests as the left refusing to accept the results of November’s election. Netanyahu was forced to fire Aryeh Deri, his minister of interior and health, after the Supreme Court ruled Deri could not serve due to a 2022 conviction.
Weekly protests across Israel continued as the Netanyahu government reiterated its commitment to making the controversial changes. President Herzog made a rare televised plea for consensus, warning that Israel was “on the verge of legal and social collapse.” Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden urged Netanyahu to build consensus before pushing through far-reaching changes.
On March 13, the parliament also advanced a bill that would make it harder to remove Netanyahu over the corruption charges that still hang over him. A day later, the Knesset advanced the first reading of the judicial changes bill. On March 20, Netanyahu delayed ratifying the reforms until the end of April. Israel’s attorney general told Netanyahu that his personal involvement in plans to change the country’s judiciary is illegal.
Netanyahu fired Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on March 26, one day after he criticised the prime minister’s plans for the judiciary. This led to bigger and fiercer protests, with tens of thousands taking to the streets. Israeli police used a water cannon to disperse demonstrators blocking a highway.
In conclusion, the proposed judicial changes by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have sparked months of protests in Israel, with critics saying they will undermine the country’s justice system. President Isaac Herzog has called for an immediate halt to the government’s controversial reform plans, citing the need for unity and responsibility. The crisis has been ongoing since November 2019 when Netanyahu was charged with fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes after a three-year investigation. The situation remains tense as protests continue across Israel.