Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is to be commended for his announcement on Saturday night in which he courageously spoke out in favor of a suspending the judicial overhaul process for several weeks to pave the way for a dialogue between the government and those opposing its judicial changes.
After delaying his televised address by two days (he had originally scheduled it for Thursday evening) per the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gallant became the most senior official in the Likud to call for a time-out.
“The growing rift in our society is penetrating the IDF and security agencies,” he declared with authority. “This poses a clear, immediate and tangible threat to the security of the state. I will not offer my helping hand to this.”
“The growing rift in our society is penetrating the IDF and security agencies. This poses a clear, immediate and tangible threat to the security of the state. I will not offer my helping hand to this.”Yoav Gallant
Gallant, a former head of IDF Southern Command, noted that he had presented his views to various parties behind closed doors in recent days and weeks.
“But now, I declare loudly and publicly, for the sake of Israel’s security, for the sake of our sons and daughters, the legislative process should be stopped in order to enable the people of Israel to celebrate Passover and Independence Day together, and to mourn together on Remembrance Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
Stressing that he remains a committed right-wing member of the Likud (which he joined at the end of 2018) and a supporter of judicial reform, Gallant said a way must be found to stop the growing protests and refusal by reservists to serve in the military, “and reach out to each other.”
The rift in Israeli society over judicial reform
Even though Gallant made his move independently, at least two members of the Likud came out immediately in support of his stand – Yuli Edelstein, who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and MK David Bitan. Others castigated Gallant, while Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir demanded that he be fired.
According to media reports, Netanyahu could either dismiss Gallant, or inform him that he will be axed if he does not vote in favor of the judicial overhaul legislation in the Knesset this week. Netanyahu is apparently mulling replacing Gallant with Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, the former Shin Bet director who, while reportedly backing Gallant’s call to suspend the legislation, promised that he would vote in favor when it is brought before the Knesset.
The coalition is still planning to pass several bills in the overhaul package before the Knesset recesses for Passover at the end of this week.
The prime minister announced in a televised speech on Thursday before leaving for London that he would defy Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara’s instruction not to involve himself directly in the judicial reform due to his own trial, and that he would personally take the reins. Until now, the government’s campaign has been publicly led by Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Simcha Rothman, chair of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
“Until today my hands were tied,” Netanyahu said. “No more. I am entering the arena, for the sake of the people and the country. I will do everything in my power to reach a solution and calm the spirits in the nation.”
In response, Baharav-Miara declared that Netanyahu’s statement was “illegal and contaminated by a conflict of interest.”
The best way for the prime minister to navigate forward now is to take the cue from Gallant, order a halt to the legislative process and green-light negotiations with the opposition in an attempt to reach a compromise that will be acceptable to most Israelis.
That would bring opposition leaders to the table and persuade the leaders of the nationwide demonstrations to halt the protests. In fact, that could be the quid pro quo offered by the government – a suspension of the legislative process in exchange for a suspension of the protests.
It is still not too late for the prime minister to accept President Isaac Herzog’s invitation for the sides to engage in a dialogue under his auspices to avert the danger of a civil war. As Gallant said, if the impasse is broken now, we can celebrate the Festival of Freedom together next week as one people, and not as the deeply divided nation we have become.