Israelis woke up to chaos on Monday, as protests over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul engulfed the country. Flights were grounded at Ben Gurion International Airport, while Israeli embassies across the world stopped work in solidarity with demonstrators.
By Monday evening, however, Netanyahu blinked. The Israeli leader announced he was delaying his government’s contentious remake of the country’s courts.
“Out of a sense of national responsibility, out of a will to prevent a rupture among our people, I have decided to pause the second and third readings of the bill,” he told the country’s legislature.
The move was welcomed by Netanyahu’s opponents. Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said he was ready for dialogue, but only if the government’s announced pause was genuine.
“If the legislation truly and totally stops, we are ready to engage in a real dialogue,” Lapid said in a TV address, but wanted to be sure “that there is no ruse or bluff” on Netanyahu’s part.
Israel’s main labour union also called off a nationwide strike Monday night.
The White House said it welcomed the delay to move forward with the overhaul and urged the Israeli parties to leave space for compromise.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, however, told reporters that the US remained concerned about the situation in Israel, adding that Biden had been “very forthright” with Netanyahu about his concerns.
Across Israel, the tensions between pro and anti-government protestors was still palpable. MEE observed the two sides confronting each other at Tel Aviv’s Azrieli junction, a main protest hub.
A few hundred right-wing protesters gathered at the junction to show support for Netanyahu, carrying signs that said “lefties are traitors”.