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Demonstrations and strikes in Israel against justice reform

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Demonstrations and strikes in Israel against justice reform

On Monday morning in Israel, trade unions and representatives of broad business sectors announced a general strike to protest against the justice reform wanted by the government of Banjamin Netanyahu, which according to critics threatens the autonomy of the country’s judicial system. Healthcare, schools and universities have threatened general blockades if the government does not withdraw the reform, and some forms of protest have already begun: among other things, the unions have blocked Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, the most important of the country, preventing all departures and arrivals.

Monday’s strikes were called after thousands demonstrated on Sunday night against the sacking of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had called for a halt to the disputed justice reform. The demonstrations had subsided during the night, but today many people are already gathering to demonstrate in Tel Aviv and especially in Jerusalem, where a protest is planned in front of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. In Tel Aviv, protesters occupied the city’s main highway for the second time after Sunday night.

Following the protests and for fear of strikes, according to Israeli newspapers it is probable that today Netanyahu will announce the blocking of the legislative process of the reform: however it is not yet clear whether it will be only a temporary interruption or if the reform will be shelved definitively.

In Israel, protests against the reform, which according to critics would limit the autonomy of the Israeli judicial system, have been going on for months, but those of recent days have involved large sectors of society and could generate further divisions in Netanyahu’s government. Protests had been held in all major Israeli cities on Sunday night: in Tel Aviv thousands of people had the highway, while in Jerusalem there had been clashes between protesters and the police protecting Netanyahu’s private residence. After the protests Isaac Herzog, the president of Israel (who has a mainly formal role), had asked to “immediately stop the legislative process” of the justice reform, “for the good of the people of Israel and in the name of responsibility”.

The justice reform desired by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government provides, among other things, for the government to appoint judges to the Supreme Court, the removal of some systems of control of the judicial system over the government and, in general, greater freedom of the executive on the appointments of judges.

The reform (which in part has already been approved) has been causing huge protests and opposition in Israel for months now, as well as some criticism within the government itself. Gallant, defense minister and former admiral of the Navy, was the first to announce his explicit dissent. In a televised speech aired on Saturday, Gallant said it was necessary to stop the legislative process because the large protests of recent times are posing a risk to national security: among other things, the demonstrations are involving a growing number of military and especially of reservists, who are an important part of the Israeli military and who are refusing to take part in training.

If the protests against the reform were to expand further and even lead to strikes, as it seems in these hours, it cannot be ruled out that divisions within the Israeli government will increase. In addition to Gallant, the finance minister also recently expressed some doubts about the effects that the justice reform could have on the country’s economy. Netanyahu’s majority in the Israeli parliament (64 out of 120 deputies) is solid by the standards of local politics but does not make the prime minister immune from possible internal riots.

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