Netanyahu backpedals on judicial overhaul pressured by record protests: Full speech

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday a halt to the process of the controversial judicial reforms moving through parliament, under pressure by unprecedented mass protests and social unrest not seen in Israel for decades.

Protests have been going ongoing for almost three months. Israelis have taken to the streets, forming mass demonstrations in protest of the judicial overhaul since it was announced in January.

However, Netanyahu’s dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for publicly criticizing the overhaul sparked on Sunday an eruption of widespread anger and tens of thousands of protestors poured into the streets rallying in historic demonstrations.

Netanyahu announced on Monday halting the legislative process of the overhaul, citing avoiding a “civil war” as the reason.

Here is the full text of his speech:

“Citizens of Israel,

Three thousand years ago, here in Jerusalem, the judgement of Solomon took place. Two women came before King Solomon. Each one claimed that she was the real mother of the infant. King Solomon commanded that a sword be brought and that the baby be cut in half. One woman was prepared to rend the baby in two while the other woman absolutely refused and insisted that the infant stay alive and whole.

Today as well, both sides in the national controversy claim to love the infant, to love our country. I am aware of the enormous tension that is building between the two sides, between two parts of the nation, and I am attentive to the desire of many citizens to dispel this tension.

However, there is one thing that I cannot accept. There is an extremist minority that is prepared to tear our country to pieces. It is using violence and incitement, it is threatening to harm elected officials, it is stoking civil war, and it is calling for refusal to serve, which is a terrible crime.

The State of Israel cannot exist without the IDF and the IDF cannot exist with refusal to serve. Refusal to serve by one side will lead to refusal to serve by the other. Refusal to serve is the end of our country. Therefore, I demand that the heads of the security services and of the army vigorously oppose the phenomenon of refusal to serve, not contain it, not understand it, not accept it – but put a stop to it.

Those who call for refusal to serve, those who call for anarchy and violence, are knowingly cutting the baby in two. But the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens on both sides of the divide do not want to rend the infant. They are unwilling to cut the nation in two.

Citizens of Israel,

I am unwilling to cut the nation in two. For three months I have repeatedly called for dialogue and also said that I would leave no stone unturned to find a solution because I remember, we remember, that we are not facing enemies but our brothers.

I say here and now: There can be no civil war. Israeli society is on a dangerous collision course. We are in the midst of a crisis that is endangering the basic unity between us. This crisis requires all of us to act responsibly.

Yesterday I read Benny Gantz's letter in which he promised in good faith to enter into a dialogue on all issues. I know that there are additional people who support his approach. To them I extend my hand and I do so after having received the consent of most of my colleagues.

When there is a chance to prevent civil war through dialogue, I – as Prime Minister – will take a time-out for dialogue. I will give a genuine chance for genuine dialogue. We insist on the need to enact the necessary changes in the judicial system and we will give a chance to achieving broad consensus. This is an incomparably worthy goal.

Therefore, out of national responsibility, out of a desire to prevent a rift in the nation, I have decided to suspend the second and third readings of the law in the current Knesset session in order to allow time to try and reach that broad consensus, ahead of legislation in the next Knesset session. One way or another, we will enact a reform that will restore the balance between the authorities that has been lost, by preserving – and I add, even by strengthening – individual rights.

From here, I would like to appeal to the supporters of the national camp: We have the Knesset majority to do this alone, with immense support among the people. Many of our supporters came to Jerusalem this evening in order to support the reform, to say: We need change, we need reform.

I would like to say to you: I am proud of you. You are not second-class citizens. I appreciate that you turned out today in the streets of our capital in order to make your democratic voice heard. Nobody will silence your voice, our voice.

I must say something else: You came spontaneously, unorganized and unfinanced, not pushed by the media, with all your heart and soul. You have touched me. I only ask of you one thing: Continue to act responsibly and do not be dragged into any provocation.

Our path is just. Today, the great majority of the public recognizes the urgency of democratic reform of the judicial system. We will not allow anyone to rob the people of its free choice. While we will not give up on the path for which we were elected, we will make the effort to achieve broad agreement.

Citizens of Israel,

We live in the generation of national revival. History has given us an extraordinary opportunity, unprecedented in the annals of nations, to return to our land and build up our homeland and our state.

Soon we will celebrate Passover, the days of remembrance and Independence Day.

We will gather around the holiday table – together.

We will mourn our fallen – together.

We will celebrate our independence – together.

And together we will thank the men and women of the security forces, who do not forget, even for a moment, their duty to defend all of us, all the time.

We all have a common fate and we all have a common mission, which is to ensure the eternity of Israel.”

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Israeli PM Netanyahu says delaying judicial overhaul to avoid ‘civil war’

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