Netanyahu appeals for calm amid mounting pressure over justice reforms

(Update 2: changes headline, lede, adds Netanyahu statement)

Jerusalem, Mar 27 (EFE).- Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday urged demonstrators from both sides of the political spectrum to avoid violence, amid widespread protests over controversial reforms of the country’s justice system.

In a message on Twitter on Monday afternoon, Netanyahu called on “all the demonstrators in Jerusalem, on the right and the left, to behave responsibly and not to act violently.”

“We are brotherly people,” he said.

While tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets again on Monday to protest against the reform, pro-government and far-right groups said they would hold counter-demonstrations.

Police have deployed additional security measures, particularly in Jerusalem, where a mass protest demanding a halt to the reform was already taking place outside the Knesset.

According to Israeli media, Netanyahu was due to make a major announcement on Monday morning but that has been delayed as he meets with his coalition partners in a bid to reach a consensus on how to proceed amid the deepening social crisis triggered by the proposed reforms.

Critics say the overhaul threatens the country’s democracy because it undermines the independence of the judiciary, while proponents of the reform, including members of Netanyahu’s coalition, have insisted that he push the changes through despite the widespread opposition.

Israeli media reported that Netanyahu has convinced most of his partners to temporarily suspend the implementation of the reform, although some, such as the far-right Itamar Ben Gvir, have threatened to leave the coalition if the reform is halted.

He and other right-wing leaders urged people to take part in this afternoon’s demonstration in Jerusalem in favor of reform so that “the elections are not stolen from us”.

“Today we will no longer be silent. Today the right wakes up,” Ben Gvir wrote on his Twitter account.

Earlier on Monday, Israel’s president Isaac Herzog had urged Netanyahu to “immediately” stop the planned judicial overhaul which has triggered widespread anger and led to the largest ever street protests in Israel.

“For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately,” Herzog said on Twitter after Sunday night’s demonstrations, the biggest in the country’s history.

He said there was “deep concern” across the nation over Israel’s security, economy and society.

“All are threatened,” Herzog warned.

“The eyes of all the people of Israel are on you. The eyes of the entire Jewish people are on you. The eyes of the whole world are on you,” he told the prime minister and members of the right-wing governing coalition and cabinet.

Protests have been mounting in Israel with a record 630,000 people taking to the streets over the weekend following the dismissal of defense minister Yoav Gallant after he spoke out against the planned judicial reforms.

Gallant’s removal marked the first fissure in the ruling coalition over the bill that would allow a simple majority of the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – to overturn Supreme Court decisions and give politicians effective control over judicial appointments.

Flights at Israel’s main airport were all grounded on Monday after the Workers’ Union called an indefinite strike.

“I have ordered an immediate halt to takeoffs at the airport,” the head of the union at Ben Gurion Airport, Pinjas Idan, said.

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