Flights grounded, labor union strike: Netanyahu pauses judicial reform amid backlash

·2 min read

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu halted his controversial judicial reform amid an intense backlash that has created one of the most significant domestic crises in the country's history.

The plan has been delayed until after the Knesset – Israel's parliament – recesses. It will be back for its next parliamentary session on April, providing time for a compromise.

"When there’s an opportunity to avoid civil war through dialogue, I, as prime minister, am taking a timeout for dialogue," Netanyahu said in a nationally televised address. He struck a conciliatory tone but said he was determined to proceed with the judicial system changes.

Israeli labor unions launched a nationwide strike, malls and ports were closed and airlines were grounded as opposition to Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary threatened to upend the nation's economy.

The chaos came after floods of protesters stormed the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in response to Netanyahu's abrupt ousting of his defense minister, who had opposed his controversial judicial reform plan. The plan, driven by the country's new right-wing government, would weaken the role of the Israeli Supreme Court, and intense opposition has sparked what some analysts say is among the country's worst crises ever.

On Sunday, the protests included highway bonfires and knocking down police barricades outside Netanyahu's home in Jerusalem.

The Biden administration, which had issued a statement Sunday evening expressing deep concern, welcomed Netanyahu's decision to pause the judicial changes.

"We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday after Netanyahu's announcement. "Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support."

Over the weekend, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant issued a statement that Netanyahu's judicial overhaul posed a security threat to Israel, which prompted his firing. Military reservists have refused to sign up for duty because of the plan.

Gallant had been the first senior member of Netanyahu's political party to speak out against the plan. Still, many in the party were urging the prime minister to press ahead.

Dig deeper: Protesters flood the streets of Israel after Netanyahu fires minister opposed to controversial reforms

Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard and The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Benjamin Netanyahu pauses Israel's judicial reform amid backlash