As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on his way back to Israel from an official visit to London, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant took to the podium to call for a temporary halt to the government’s judicial overhaul, and for a cancellation of the Deri Law, scheduled for a vote this week.
Speaking in a brief statement that was broadcast on national television, Gallant said, “The mission of my life is the security of Israel, I have devoted my life to it, and this time too I am ready to take a risk and pay the price.
“The threats are huge, near and far – Iran is close to military nuclear capability, the northern arena is busy, Palestinian terrorism is increasing.
“In the last few weeks, something dramatic has occurred,” he continued. “I have been meeting the commanders in the field and in their offices, and I’m worried by what I’m hearing.
“I have never encountered the intensity of anger and pain I have seen now. The rift in society has penetrated into the army and this is an immediate and tangible danger to the security of the state. I will not participate in this.
“We need a change in the judicial system. The balance between the branches [of government] needs to be re-balanced, which will strengthen public faith. But massive changes must be done with dialogue.
“A victory for one of the parties will be a loss for the State of Israel.
“For the sake of Israel’s security, the legislative process must be temporarily halted and negotiations held.
“It doesn’t matter who started this, nor who is right and who is wrong.
“I am calling for a halt to the judicial reform legislation until after Yom Ha’Atzma’ut,” he said, adding that he was also calling for IDF reservists to stop their strikes and anti-government protesters to halt their demonstrations during any negotiations.
In making the statement, Gallant joined forces with Agriculture Minister and former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter, who in a statement on Saturday evening likewise called for a halt to the judicial reforms until after Israel’s Independence Day on April 26, along with Likud MK and former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who has expressed similar views. [Update: One Monday, Dichter made it clear he will vote with the coalition for the reform.]
Both Gallant and Edelstein have been positioning themselves for a future battle over the leadership of the Likud party, currently headed by Netanyahu. Though it’s more likely that Gallant just pushed himself out of the Likud.
Likud MK David Bitan likewise supports a halt to the reforms. “As I said a few weeks ago, we need to stop the legislation and start negotiating immediately and come to agreements,” Bitan said in a statement.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, however, slammed Gallant’s address. “I call on the prime minister to fire Gallant,” he said.
Ben Gvir noted that Gallant had “entered the Defense Ministry with the votes of the right wing, but gave in to the pressures of reservists’ refusals to comply with orders, and is now trying to put an end to an important reform.”
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and his Religious-Zionist party members have yet to respond.
At present, the government lacks the basic majority of 61 Knesset votes to pass any further judicial reform legislation, due to the opposition of Gallant, Dichter, Edelstein and Bitan. Without those four mandates, Netanyahu has just 60 votes in favor of the overhaul.
Moreover, the integrity of the coalition itself is now in jeopardy. If the Deri Law fails to pass prior to the upcoming Passover holiday, or unless Shas party chairman MK Aryeh Deri is appointed Alternate Prime Minister, Shas will likely bolt the coalition, thus ending the current Netanyahu government.
Sources in Justice Minister’s Yariv Levin’s office said the minister will wait until PM Netanyahu returns and weighs in before releasing a statement.
Besides the spoken fear of the mass refusal to do IDF reserve duty, there is also the fear the anarchists will go through with their threats to disrupt the upcoming Memorial Day and Independence Day ceremonies, which would be another red line splitting the country.
There’s speculation that Gallant’s speech was done in collaboration with Netanyahu, to try and buy the coalition some quiet until after the holidays, giving them the opportunity to regroup and the opportunity for anyone on the left to agree to talk, as unlikely as that might be. Though Netanyahu might use Gallant’s opposition to buy himself some time. THe next question is whether Netanyahu will fire Gallant or not.
In response to the speech, the leaders of the protests responded that they will be satisfied with nothing less than cancellation of the reforms.
MK Meirav Michaeli (Labor) said that no talking is needed, what’s needed are new elections.
Anarchist leader Ehud Barak said this was a huge achievement and the protests now have to increase and intensify.