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Israeli diplomats in Canada return to work after strike against judicial overhaul

OTTAWA — Israeli diplomats in Canada are set to return to work on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caved to public pressure and announced a delay in his contentious plan to overhaul the country's judiciary.
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan outside the parliament in Jerusalem, Monday, March 27, 2023. Israeli diplomats in Canada have joined a strike against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to overhaul the country's judiciary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Ariel Schalit

OTTAWA — Israeli diplomats in Canada are set to return to work on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caved to public pressure and announced a delay in his contentious plan to overhaul the country's judiciary.

Israel's embassy in Ottawa, as well as its consulates in Toronto and Montreal, were shuttered Monday after the country's largest trade union, Histadrut, called on its 800,000 members to strike in protest of Netanyahu's planned reforms.

In addition to closing Israeli diplomatic posts around the world, Histadrut called for members to also stop work in health care, transit, banking and other fields, which threatened to paralyze the economy and halt essential services.

Histadrut's strike call came after Netanyahu fired Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant, the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out against the plan. Gallant's dismissal sparked spontaneous protests across the country.

Faced with an unprecedented wave of resistance, Netanyahu announced late Monday that he was delaying his plan "to avoid civil war."

Immediately after Netanyahu's statement, Histadrut said it would call off its general strike.

"When there's an opportunity to avoid civil war through dialogue, I, as prime minister, am taking a time out for dialogue," Netanyahu said in a nationally televised address.

Striking a more conciliatory tone than in previous speeches, he said he was determined to pass a judicial reform but called for "an attempt to achieve broad consensus."

Netanyahu gave no timeline for a compromise to be reached, but expressed hope that the nation would heal and that people would enjoy the upcoming Passover holiday.

The speech appeared to calm tensions, but it did not resolve the underlying strain behind the protests. Even before he spoke, the grassroots anti-government protest movement said a delay would not be enough.

The protests are in response to Netanyahu's plan to give his governing coalition the final say over all judicial appointments. The government also wants to give Israel's parliament the authority to overturn Supreme Court decisions.

The plan has been driven by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, and his allies in Israel's most right-wing government ever. Critics have accused Israel's longest-serving prime minister of using the proposed changes to maintain his grip on power.

He denies wrongdoing, while the government has previously labeled protesters as anarchists out to topple democratically elected leaders.

Government officials say the plan will restore balance between the judicial and executive branches and rein in what they see as an interventionist court with liberal sympathies.

Canada and other members of the international community have been watching closely as the reforms have plunged Israel into one of its most serious domestic crises.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Monday that she had raised Netanyahu's proposed reform with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen recently, and that Canada has issues with the proposed overhaul.

"We continue to put pressure on Israel, to make it so that they drop their judicial reform," she said in French.

She later added in English: "In a democracy, fundamental changes must be supported by a broad range of people, and we encourage Israeli leaders to find a path supported by the people."

Joly did not say whether Canada will impose sanctions or take other measures beyond diplomatic engagement and raising the issue in public.

"It's important that people in the streets of Israel know that Canada hear them," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2023.

— With files from Dylan Robertson and The Associated Press.

The Canadian Press

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