Israel's judicial overhaul delayed after mass protests and strikes

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Rob Picheta, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Ivana Kottasová and Jack Guy, CNN

Updated 5:57 p.m. ET, March 27, 2023
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6:23 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

More than two dozen Israeli mayors declare hunger strike over judicial overhaul

From CNN’s Lianne Kolirin 

More than two dozen mayors from across Israel went on a hunger strike Monday in Jerusalem, protesting against the government’s proposed judicial overhaul, they announced. 

“We, the mayors of local authorities from all sides of the political spectrum, starting tomorrow morning, are launching a hunger strike in Jerusalem opposite the prime minister’s office, demanding an end to the huge crisis and the disaster that Israel is hurtling towards, to prevent the security of the country being affected and for the sake of togetherness and unity of the country," Moshe Fadlon, the mayor of the coastal city of Herzliya, posted statement from himself and his protesting colleagues Sunday night.

The statement was signed by 27 officials, representing a broad spectrum of local authorities across the country.

5:53 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Workers at Israel's biggest port join "historic" strike

From CNN’s Michael Schwartz in Jerusalem

Workers at Haifa port -- the largest in Israel -- have joined the strikes that have brought much of the country to a standstill, the port's spokesperson Zohar Arnon told CNN Monday.

“Our workers have stopped,” Arnon said. “They are still in the port waiting for developments.”

The port in the northern Israeli city of Haifa is one of the country's main hubs. Earlier on Monday, Israel’s main airport, Ben Gurion Tel Aviv, announced an immediate halt to all departing flights.

The Azrieli Group, a large chain of Israeli malls, also announced Monday it is also closing in support of the strikes. “We must not stand by when Israel is burning," its chairman Dana Azrieli said in a statement.

And McDonald’s has closed all of its restaurants across the country, the company announced on Twitter Monday.

The action is part of what Israel’s largest union federation called a “historic” general strike on Monday, intended to heighten pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt his judicial overhaul.

“Stop this judicial revolution, this craziness,” Histadrut union federation leader Arnon Bar-David told Netanyahu in a televised speech.

4:40 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

"We've never been closer to falling apart": Ex-PM Lapid tells Netanyahu's party to "stop this madness"

From CNN’s Hadas Gold in Jerusalem

(Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)
(Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

Israel’s former Prime Minister Yair Lapid has called on Benjamin Netanyahu's government to halt its judicial overhaul, telling the Knesset that the country has been "taken hostage by a bunch of extremists with no brakes and no boundaries."

What's happened here in the past 24 hours is madness, it is a loss of control and a loss of direction," Lapid said.

"It is proof that this government has lost its brakes. It is a danger to the State of Israel, it is a danger to the security of Israel. Our home is in danger," he added.

Lapid called on Netanyahu to reverse his decision to fire Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and told lawmakers "we've never been closer to falling apart."

"Our national security is at risk, our economy is crumbling, our foreign relations are at their lowest point ever, we don't know what to say to our children about their future in this country. We have been taken hostage by a bunch of extremists with no brakes and no boundaries," said Lapid, who served as prime minister for five months before Netanyahu returned to power following November's election.

"It's almost too late, but it isn't too late yet. There are enough decent people in the Likud who can and should stop this madness," he said.

"In the history of a country there are rare moments when the government must decide if it’s here to build or to destroy, to unite or to divide," Lapid continued. "This is one of those moments. I call on the government, on the Likud, get a grip, stop the legislation and come talk."
6:02 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Israel's Ben Gurion airport halts departures as part of strike action

From CNN’s Michael Schwartz and Hadas Gold in Jerusalem and journalist Elliott Gotkine at Ben Gurion Airport

People stand at almost deserted ben Gurion airport during a national wide strike in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 27.
People stand at almost deserted ben Gurion airport during a national wide strike in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 27. (Ilia Yefimovich/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Israel’s main airport, Ben Gurion Tel Aviv, on Monday announced an immediate halt to all departing flights, as part of a strike raising pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel Airports Authority spokesperson Ofer Lefler told CNN that departures will be suspended immediately, although arriving flights will land as planned.

Lefler said the airport expected about 70,000 passengers on Monday, with half taking off and half landing.

At the airport, journalist Elliott Gotkine's flight was scheduled to take off at 11:30 a.m. local time (4:30 a.m. ET). He reported that the boarding process for his flight was suddenly stopped. 

5:55 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

BREAKING: Israel's biggest union federation calls "historic" strike to stop "judicial revolution"

From CNN’s Michael Schwartz in Jerusalem

Israel’s largest union federation on Monday called a “historic” general strike, to “stop this judicial revolution, this craziness,” Histadrut leader Arnon Bar-David announced in a televised speech.

“Stop this judicial process before it is too late,” Bar-David said, addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly.

More to come ...

5:54 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

What Israel's judicial overhaul plans could mean for the Palestinians

From CNN's Hadas Gold in Jerusalem

Palestinians protest Israel's politics after performing first Friday prayer of Ramadan at Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem on March 24.
Palestinians protest Israel's politics after performing first Friday prayer of Ramadan at Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem on March 24. (Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

At its core, Israel's planned judicial overhaul would give the country's parliament, the Knesset, and therefore the parties in power, more control over the judiciary.

From how judges are selected, to what laws the Supreme Court can rule on, to even giving parliament power to overturn Supreme Court decisions, the changes would be the most significant shakeups to Israel’s judiciary since its founding in 1948.

What it means for Palestinians: Weakening the judicial branch could limit both Israelis and Palestinians in seeking the court’s defense of their rights if they believe they are compromised by the government.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank could be affected, and of course, Palestinian citizens of Israel or those who hold residency cards would be directly affected. Israel’s Supreme Court has no influence on what happens in Gaza, which is ruled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Critics of the changes worry that if the politicians have more control, the rights of minorities in Israel, especially Palestinians living in Israel, would be impacted.

Last year, for example, the court halted the evictions of Palestinian families in the flashpoint neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, where Jewish groups have claimed ownership of land the families have lived on for decades.

At the same time, Palestinian activists have argued that the high court has further entrenched Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, having never considered the legality of Israeli settlements there, even though they’re considered illegal by most of the international community.

The high court has also been the subject of complaints from Israel’s far right and settlers, who say it is biased against settlers; they have condemned the court’s involvement in approving the eviction of settlers from Gaza and the Northern West Bank in 2005.

5:58 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Why American Jews are distancing themselves from Netanyahu's government

From CNN's Abbas Al Lawati in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Bezalel Smotrich speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem on January 8.
Bezalel Smotrich speaks at a news conference in Jerusalem on January 8. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

This month, 145 American Jewish leaders publicly distanced themselves from a member of the Israeli government, saying Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was not welcome in the United States.

It was a rare public rebuke of a sitting Israeli minister that brought together individuals from across the Jewish-American political spectrum. Smotrich “has long expressed views that are abhorrent to the vast majority of American Jews, from anti-Arab racism, to virulent homophobia, to a full-throated embrace of Jewish supremacy,” they said in a statement.

The comments came after the minister called for a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank to be “erased” after two Israeli brothers were shot and killed there, prompting a rampage through the area by Israeli Jewish settlers.

The episode is a symptom of the widening gap of values between many American Jews and Israel as the Jewish state shifts to the right. In December, Israel swore in the most right-wing government in its history, bringing in extremists known for controversial views. The cabinet has also pushed forward a plan to weaken the judiciary that has brought hundreds of thousands of Israeli protesters to the streets as well as criticism from Israel’s closest allies.

The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has become the target of near-regular criticism by the Biden administration. In its latest move, the US State Department last week summoned Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog after Israel’s parliament passed legislation that allows Jewish settlements to be rebuilt in parts of the occupied West Bank. It was the first summoning of an Israeli ambassador in the US in over a decade.

“The reality… is that the interests of American Jews and Israel have been diverging for many years, but it’s been papered over,” Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times this month. He called on the community to shun Netanyahu, citing the prime minister’s deployment of the “Trumpist playbook” by courting ultranationalist and ultrareligious parties.

Read more here.

5:52 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Why was Israel's defense minister fired?

Yoav Gallant attends a news conference in Lod, Israel, on March 9.
Yoav Gallant attends a news conference in Lod, Israel, on March 9. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was fired after he called for a pause in the government's drive to overhaul the country’s judicial system in a speech Saturday night.

Gallant is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

His speech made him the first government minister to take a public stance in favor of a delay in the reforms.

“For the security of Israel, for the sake of our sons and daughters: We need to stop the legislative process at this time,” Gallant said in a video statement. 
“We need to stop the demonstrations and protests — and reach out for dialogue. Any manifestation of refusal that eats away at the strength of the IDF and harms the security system should be stopped immediately,” Gallant said, a reference to the refusal of some Israel Defense Forces reservists to train in protest at the government plans. 

Gallant called for a pause “to allow the people of Israel to celebrate Passover and Independence Day together, and mourn together on Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day. These are holy days for us.”

Israeli Independence Day falls on April 26 this year. 

2:40 a.m. ET, March 27, 2023

Israeli President Isaac Herzog calls on government to halt judicial overhaul

From CNN's Irene Nasser 

Isaac Herzog delivers a speech at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 7, 2022.
Isaac Herzog delivers a speech at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 7, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Monday urged the government to immediately halt its planned judicial overhaul, saying: "the eyes of the whole world are on you."

"I turn to the Prime Minister, members of the government and members of the coalition: the feelings are hard and painful. Deep concern hovers over the entire nation. Security, economy, society — everyone is threatened. The eyes of all the people of Israel are on you. The eyes of all the Jewish people are on you. The eyes of the whole world are on you," Herzog said in a post on his official Facebook page.
"For the sake of the unity of Israelis, for the sake of committed responsibility I call on you to halt the legislative procedure immediately."

Herzog called on the "leaders of all the Knesset factions, coalition and opposition alike, to put the citizens of the country above all, and to act responsibly and with courage without further delay."

"Come to your senses now! This is not a political moment, this is a moment for leadership and responsibility," he said.

Some context: Although the Israeli presidency is largely a ceremonial role, Herzog has been actively speaking with all parties calling for negotiations. Herzog has previously said the government’s proposed legislation was “misguided, brutal and undermines our democratic foundations,” and warned Israel was potentially on the brink of a “civil war.”