Netanyahu softens judicial overhaul but showdown looms

STORY: Facing mounting mass protests inside of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said he would soften his controversial judicial overhaul plan. But the changes failed to satisfy an opposition that has organized a campaign against the government over the proposed reforms.

The plan would give the government more control of the appointment of judges and constrain the Supreme Court's ability to check the legislature or the executive.

Critics say the proposed overhaul would undermine the Supreme Court as an independent branch of government and erode the nation's democracy.

Netanyahu said that after discussing the crisis in a phone call with U.S. President Joe Biden, he would postpone most of the proposed changes apart from the planned shakeup in appointing judges, which he wants to see ratified before a parliament recess on April 2.

Recent changes to that bill would give opposition lawmakers some say in judicial appointments.

The prime minister presented these changes as an olive branch to his rivals. In a statement, Netanyahu said, he was “extending a hand to anyone who genuinely cares about national unity and the desire to reach an agreed accord."

Opposition leader Yair Lapid rejected the moves.

"The moment the change to the Judicial Appointments Committee passes, we will appeal against it at the Supreme Court. The base for the appeal will be simple: If this law passes, Israel stops being a democratic state. We will not allow this to happen. The liberal camp is simply unwilling to live in a non-democratic state. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli patriots will continue to take to the streets, we will continue to fight here at the Knesset, we will not allow this to happen."

Netanyahu says the changes will balance the branches of government. The Black Flags activist group says demonstrations that have already shaken the country and reached into its normally apolitical military would be intensified. It accused Netanyahu of attempting "to put the protest to sleep with pretty words."

Netanyahu also faced censure from his government coalition as at least one lawmaker called his changes “capitulation”.