Netanyahu summons defense minister after reported push to stop judicial overhaul

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned his defense chief on Thursday after local media reported the minister had called for a halt to a planned judicial overhaul that has set off unprecedented protests, including within the military.

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Netanyahu’s office did not elaborate on the reasons for the summons of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a senior member of his conservative Likud party, but said the prime minister would deliver televised remarks at 8:40 p.m. (1840 GMT).

Israeli media had earlier reported that Gallant, a former deputy chief of the armed forces, would convene his own news conference. Gallant's office declined to comment, and any such plan appeared to have been shelved as Netanyahu’s statement neared.

The confusion around the evening statements underlined the strains within the ruling coalition as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir accused Gallant of having “removed himself from the rightist camp” following media reports of his calls for a halt to the plans.

Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets on Thursday, intensifying a months-long campaign decrying the proposed overhaul that would curb some Supreme Court powers and tighten political control over the appointment of judges.

Police trying to clear a highway fired a water cannon and carried some protesters away. Protesters heckled a Cabinet minister and unfurled a massive replica of the country’s Declaration of Independence on a wall of Jerusalem’s Old City.

What we are doing here is we are fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our lives as a Jewish people together in the state that we have been building for 75 years,” said Avidan Friedman, who was wearing a Jewish prayer shawl over his head.

“We are fighting because we feel like what’s going on now is tearing us apart and we are calling on the government to stop.”

Dozens of protesters were arrested for public disturbance, police said.

Critics fear that Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition seeks to subordinate the judiciary to the legislature, undermining vital democratic checks and balances.

Netanyahu - who is on trial on corruption charges he denies - says his aim is to balance out the branches of government.

Gallant has previously voiced worries about a wave of Israelis who have pledged not to heed call-ups for military reserve duty if the reforms proceed, saying the phenomenon could weaken war-readiness and national cohesion.

The shekel, shaken by the almost three months of unprecedented furore, surged 2.3 percent against the dollar on the reports Gallant had called for a halt to the plans.

The judicial overhaul has stirred concern for Israel's democratic health at home and abroad. Senior officials in the Finance Ministry warned this week of an economic backlash.

Gallant, a retired navy admiral, has been the focus of protests by veterans of the elite frogman unit he once led. Hundreds of them sent him an open letter last month urging he oppose the overhaul, and a group of them confronted him on a beach on March 11 when he returned from a sailing excursion.

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