Flights in Israel have been grounded after major trade unions announced general strikes on Monday as the country became paralysed by protests over Benjamin Netanyahu’s hugely controversial plans for legal reform.
The morning after mass demonstrations against the Israeli prime minister in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, among dozens of other cities, air workers at Ben Gurion airport joined the protests by preventing flights from taking off.
The huge display of opposition to Mr Netanyahu was triggered by his decision to sack his defence minister, Yoav Galant, on Sunday night after he criticised the legal reforms.
Critics of Mr Netanyahu’s divisive plans for legal overhaul say they will turn the country in a “dictatorship” by neutering the Supreme Court and giving the government greater powers of appointing judges.
Mr Netanyahu, who has not yet addressed the mass demonstrations, is due to give a statement later today where it is widely expected that he will announce he is pausing the reforms.
Several hardline ministers in his coalition, including the extreme-Right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, have reportedly approved delaying the legislation, clearing the way for a major climbdown. Some Israeli media reports say Mr Netanyahu has already informed his coalition that he is about to delay the reforms.
On Monday morning, thousands of Israelis boarded trains for Jerusalem where they held renewed demonstrations outside the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Nurseries and shopping malls have closed their doors as part of a pre-planned “general strike” over the reforms.
Earlier on Monday, the head of Israel’s airport workers’ union confirmed that they were stopping flights from taking off in protest at the legal reforms. Meanwhile the country’s largest labour union announced it was also going on strike, including the health sector, unless the reform package is abandoned. Emergency healthcare will still be provided, the Israeli health ministry said.
Even allies in Mr Netanyahu’s own Likud party have been publicly urging him to suspend the reforms until calm is restored. “The rift in the people and the tremendous chaos that Israel is in has reached the point of almost no return,” Likud ally Haim Bibas said on Monday.
If Mr Netanyahu pauses the reforms, it will likely be until May when the flashpoint period of both Ramadan and Passover has concluded in the Holy Land.
It is unclear whether pausing the reforms will placate the protesters, though most appear to be more focused on reversing the legislation than toppling Mr Netanyahu.
Any major climbdown by Mr Netanyahu also raises the prospect of his government collapsing, as the legal reform was a flagship policy backed by extreme-right wing parties that prop up his coalition.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Israeli police minister, was said to be the last government figure holding out against a freeze of the reforms as of mid-morning on Monday.
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