Following mounting pressure from protest groups and a direct plea from U.S. President Joe Biden over the weekend, Israel’s government announced Monday that it will delay the implementation of some aspects of its judicial overhaul that critics say will weaken the courts.
In a phone call Sunday, Biden reportedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”
Since the planned judicial reforms were unveiled in February by Israel’s new government—the country’s most right-wing ever—protests have become a regular fixture. Organizers say 500,000 people took to the streets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv over the weekend, and further demonstrations are expected Thursday.
There are also reports of growing internal division within government; David Bitan, a member of the Knesset, or Israel’s parliament, said in a television broadcast Sunday that “there are at least five Likud members who are in favor of stopping the legislation,” a reference to Netanyahu’s political party.
President Isaac Herzog has unsuccessfully attempted to broker a compromise with warnings last week that the country was on course for “civil war.”
During his call with Netanyahu, Biden also offered support to help establish a compromise. According to Nathaniel George, a Middle East politics professor at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, the U.S. is in a strong position to influence Israel’s government because it is the nation’s “international sponsor, politically, militarily, and economically.”
George notes that the U.S. intervention is likely an attempt to curtail the new Israeli government’s more radical proposals because they “highlight deep divisions within Israeli society at a time when U.S. and Israeli adversaries have made some notable gains outside of their control,” such as Iran’s rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.
Still, some contentious parts of the judicial overhaul are on track to be enacted before the Knesset breaks for Passover on April 5.
That includes plans to grant Israel’s government a one-seat majority on the nine-member committee that oversees the selection of Supreme Court judges. “This won’t be the Judges Selection Committee, this will be the committee for appointing cronies,” opposition leader Yair Lapid warned in a statement, according to the Washington Post.
Because Israel has a set of Basic Laws interpreted by the Supreme Court, rather than a written constitution, judges are one of the few checks on the government’s power.
Another proposed change the government is set to push through would protect Netanyahu, who is facing corruption charges, from prosecution.
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