Netanyahu agrees to pause judicial overhaul following widespread unrest

Before the judicial overhaul proposal was paused, large crowds of protesters and counter-protesters gathered in the shadow of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, many waving Israeli flags. Some chanted into megaphones or banged on drums.

Leah Basa, 23, said she felt Netanyahu’s plan would lead to the “downfall of democracy.”

“I’m protesting the reform which is going to get rid of the checks and balances and get rid of the separation of powers,” she said. “I think that it is causing so many rips in society. No matter which side wins, nobody is going to win in the end because whether the reform passes or doesn’t both sides just hate each other so much.”

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan outside the parliament in Jerusalem on Monday. Ohad Zwigenberg / AP

Salome Dunaevsky, 57, said she felt Netanyahu’s plan would cause chaos.

“It gives total power, almost total power, to the politicians,” she said. “It means that there is no rule. You can do whatever.”

But the delay of the plan was not welcomed by everyone.

“I feel terrible,” Ori Rosenthal, 37, said. “We elected them to do the job and they surrendered to everyone. The minority is terrorizing the majority and that’s not democracy.”

Israel’s diplomatic staff were among those on strike Monday on the advice of their trade union, one diplomat who was not authorized to brief the media told NBC News. Israel’s embassies in Washington and around the world shut as a result and some diplomats replaced their social media profile pictures with the Israeli flag.

Peter Lerner, the head of international relations at Histadrut, the Israeli trade union umbrella group representing some 700,000 workers, tweeted a video of cheering activists. He said the group’s chairman, Arnon Bar-David, had just told the meeting: “We are stopping the legal revolution.”

In response to Netanyahu’s address Monday evening, Bar-David ended the general strike and said he would assist the prime minister in leading negotiations.

“I call on all my friends in the government and in the Knesset, from the left and the right, to put ego aside and see the good of the people and the future of Israeli society before your eyes,” he said.  

Monday’s unrest affected many sectors. Israel’s airport authority confirmed just before 11 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET) that all departing flights from Ben-Gurion International Airport would be grounded.

Two of Israel’s main seaports, Haifa and Ashdod, said in separate statements seen by Reuters that they would shut down in support of the general strike.

Big brands also took part in the protest: McDonald’s said it would begin closing its restaurants across the country from midday (5 a.m. ET) before a full national closure from 2 p.m. (7 a.m. ET).

Tens of thousands of Israelis have poured into the streets across the country in a spontaneous outburst of anger after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly fired his defense minister for challenging the Israeli leader's judicial overhaul plan.
Israeli police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators in Tel Aviv early Monday. Oren Ziv / AP

Israel’s leading universities also closed Monday in protest against both Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan and Gallant’s firing, saying in a statement that the changes could lead to a “brain drain” in Israel and discourage international students.

Netanyahu’s planned overhaul also prompted international pressure.

Israel’s consul general in New York, Asaf Zamir, announced Sunday night he would resign after 18 months in the job, over the judicial changes and the defense minister’s firing.

And the White House released a statement from the National Security Council on Sunday night that said the most recent protests “further underscore the urgent need for compromise.”

“As the president recently discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu, democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” it said.

Patrick Smith reported from London, Ali Zelenko reported from Jerusalem and Elizabeth Chuck reported from New York.

Josh Lederman contributed.

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