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In Nationwide Address, Netanyahu Says He Will Seek Calm, But Move Ahead with Judicial Reforms


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JERUSALEM, Israel – In a nationwide address Thursday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government will move ahead with judicial reform legislation despite weeks of nationwide street protests and warnings from defense leaders about divisions in the country.

The prime minister acknowledged arguments on both sides of the battle and said would he seek calm in the process, but insisted, as he did in last year's campaign in which his party won the most seats in parliament, that his government would restore what he sees as a "correct balance" between the judicial and legislative branches of government.

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His remarks came after another protest Thursday that was dubbed by the protest leadership as a "Day of Paralysis," in which police confronted demonstrators with water cannon as they attempted to tie up traffic on roads throughout the country.

The opposition held a rally outside Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, and protesters surrounded the car of Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset's Constitution Committee, shouting "shame!" at him after he attended a meeting in the city of Ramot Hasharon.

In his judicial reform remarks to the nation, Netanyahu stressed, "The law that will pass next week in the Knesset is a law that does not control the court, it balances and diversifies it. It opens the doors of the court to views and publics and vast sectors that hitherto were excluded from it.”

As a concession to critics, the prime minister suggested that instead of requiring a bare majority of 61 Knesset votes to override a decision by the High Court of Justice, the number of votes needed will be higher, making it more difficult for the legislators to abrogate a judicial ruling.

He also insisted the government will protect the freedom of individuals. “I plan to defend individual rights, I will guarantee the rights of every citizen of Israel,” he promised, and added that “all legislation will be obligated to these principles." He said he would become personally involved in the legislation to make sure it happens.

Those comments may have been directed partly at the furor over a bill proposed by two ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition, who proposed legislation – as they have many times since 1999 – making it a crime for people in Israel to proselytize or share their faith. In response to an outcry from U.S. evangelical Christians and Messianic believers in Israel, Netanyahu tweeted Wednesday that he would "not advance any law against the Christian community."

The prime minister left for London Friday morning after delaying his scheduled trip to address the nation. Iran's nuclear threat is expected to be on the agenda, as Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen will meet with the British foreign secretary.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters are gearing up to demonstrate in central London while he's there.

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About The Author


John Waage has covered politics and analyzed elections for CBN New since 1980, including primaries, conventions, and general elections. He also analyzes the convulsive politics of the Middle East.