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Israel Delays Plans to Increase Government Power After Mass Protests

Israeli protest
Ammar Awad/Reuters
Women dressed as handmaidens from "The Handmaid's Tale" attend a demonstration after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the defense minister and his government presses on with its judicial overhaul, in Jerusalem, March 27.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial plans to weaken Israel's judiciary will be put on hold after widespread strikes and protests drove the country to a standstill.

(CNN) — Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial plans to weaken Israel's judiciary will be put on hold after widespread strikes and protests drove the country to a standstill, the party of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced Monday.

The legislation will be paused until the next legislative term, after the Passover recess in April, Gvir's Jewish Power party said in a statement.

Netanyahu himself has not commented on a delay. A nationwide strike on Monday saw workers in virtually every major sector walk out, and protesters clogged streets and rammed city centers across Israel, demanding an end to the plan.

The original proposals would have amounted to the most sweeping overhaul of the Israeli legal system since the country's founding. The most significant changes would allow a simple majority in the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court rulings; the Netanyahu government also sought to change the way judges are selected, and remove government ministries' independent legal advisers, whose opinions are binding.

But months of sustained protests over the plans drew global attention and rocked the country. The political crisis deepened on Sunday when Netanyahu's office announced the firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a one-line statement, after he became the first member of the cabinet to call for a pause to the controversial plans.

In the hours that followed, Israeli society ground to a halt as anger at the bill mounted. Netanyahu was also condemned by his opponents and a host of former Israeli prime ministers.

"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," former Prime Minister Yair Lapid said at the Knesset.

As he fought to push ahead with his effort last week, Netanyahu's government also passed a law making it harder to oust prime ministers that was condemned by critics as a self-preservation tactic.

By a 61-to-47 final vote, the Knesset approved the bill that states that only the prime minister himself or the cabinet, with a two-thirds majority, can declare the leader unfit. The cabinet vote would then need to be ratified by a super majority in the parliament.

Netanyahu, who is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to appear in court as a defendant, is on trial for charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. He denies any wrongdoing.

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