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Edelstein calls for pause on judicial reform as protests continue

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What happened: Some senior Likud MKs have called for compromise on the judicial reforms currently being legislated in the Knesset, although this has been rejected by Justice Minister Yariv Levin.

  • Yuli Edelstein told Channel 12 news “We have the opportunity to halt the legislative process for a limited period. When you want to come and be adults and not like little kids in a kindergarten, then it’s definitely possible to get to a [joint] draft.” On Sunday, Edelstein said that he had spoken to several fellow MKs who were on the same page.
  • Unnamed Likud ministers told Channel 12 news on Friday. “The whole process was done in the wrong way – under pressure and without explaining it to the public, who don’t understand what is going on. It is a very difficult situation. Therefore we need to stop and come to a compromise.”
  • Yet stopping the legislation has been rejected by Justice Minister Yariv Levin. “Halting the reform would mean watering it down and burying it” he reportedly told Likud MKs and “that would lead to the collapse of the government – not immediately but gradually.”

Context: Edelstein is a former Knesset Speaker and challenger to Netanyahu for the leadership of the Likud.

  • Popular demonstrations against the proposed reforms continue and reservists in key units have said they will not report for training and duty if the legislation continues.
  • An estimated quarter-million Israelis in 95 venues across Israel protested on Saturday night for the ninth consecutive week. The largest demonstration in Tel Aviv drew an estimated 160,000 people.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu described the leaders of the protests movement as an “extreme and dangerous group” that wants to “burn down the club” and “bring chaos.” He accused the protesters of “attacking policemen, blocking roads, [and] breaking through police barriers.”
  • Thirty seven F-15 pilots out of the forty stationed in the IAF’s Squadron 69, one of the air forces’ most elite units, announced that they would not attend training this Wednesday. The squadron operates aircraft that have targeted Iranian positions in Syria and further afield.
  • One Lt.-Col. said “The pilots of Squadron 69 will continue to serve the Jewish and democratic Israel, beyond the borders of the enemy at all times.” However, “like during other significant events which impact the pilots and require dialogue, we decided to stop for one day of scheduled training to talk about the worrying processes which the state is experiencing.”
  • Another reservist pilot said “Somebody is trying to change the fundamental contract on the basis of which we enlisted and were prepared to risk our lives. We aren’t refusing to obey orders. We are signalling that we won’t be prepared to serve a dictatorial regime. Our heart is torn from the very thought that we won’t defend the country any longer… Our act is authentic and is designed to say, ‘No further. Stop. Otherwise, everything is going to fall apart in our hands.'”
  • On Friday, approximately 150 Israeli army reservists serving in cyber units announced they would stop reporting for duty if the judicial overhaul is advanced. In a letter to the Chief of Staff, Mossad chief and head of the Shin Bet, they wrote that “the moral and legal framework that enables us to develop and run the sensitive capabilities we operate will be harmed” and that “in such a scenario we will not be able to continue volunteering for service in the field of cyber operation.”
  • The Chief of Staff has reportedly met with Prime Minister Netanyahu to warn of the potential consequences to the IDF. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant yesterday said that that “every call for refusal harms the IDF’s functioning and its ability to carry out its missions” and called for the government to enter into talks about compromise. The IAF is built on pilots who are conscripts and career officers and reservist pilots. The reservist pilots usually devote atleast one day a week to operational sorties and training.
  • Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid and head of the National Unity Party Benny Gantz have both distanced themselves from reservists’ refusal to serve.  “I am against refusal,” said Lapid. “I don’t think it’s the way. I understand the pain, the sorrow, the dread, and the fury. I think it’s a mistake. We have one army, and it’s forbidden that there is refusal.”

Looking Ahead: The Knesset will hold a shortened session today before breaking for the Purim holiday until Thursday.

  • The government and opposition remain at odds regarding the conditions under which dialogue might take place.
  • Levin, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and MK Simcha Rothman released a statement saying they were prepared to meet for compromise talks Tuesday night under the auspices of President Herzog. “We believe that the reform is necessary for democracy, human rights and the economy. We are answering the call for talks without preconditions, and call on responsible parties in the opposition to answer the call as well.”
  • Levin and Rothman have aimed to pass the critical legislation by the end of the Knesset’s winter session which is at the end of March. In light of the time constraints, the coalition is reportedly considering combining the sections of the judicial revolution into a single bill.
  • Lapid responded that “there will be talks only once they announce a halt to the legislation.”