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As Israel's judicial overhaul legislation faces a final vote, protesters don't let up


Protests have escalated in Israel on a day that could determine the future of the country.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister over the weekend.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Hebrew).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Hebrew).

MARTIN: Yoav Gallant had said protests against the Netanyahu government's judicial overhaul had spread inside the military, causing a threat to national security. Protesters have gathered outside the Parliament, where Netanyahu's coalition is preparing for a final vote on the legislation, even as Israeli media report Netanyahu may be considering a freeze.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, for the latest, we turn to NPR's Daniel Estrin. He is joining us now from Jerusalem.

Daniel, it's pretty loud there. What do you got going on there?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: You know, A, this is a dramatic, consequential moment in Israel. Israel's largest trade union has called a national strike. Flights are currently grounded. Hospitals are canceling nonurgent treatments. And things escalated really quickly last night, when I was caught on the highway. There was a spontaneous protest, erupted in the middle of the road, thousands of protesters, because Netanyahu fired his defense minister. He was the only government minister who came out opposing the judicial overhaul. So he fired him. Listen to this protester who approached me, Yanai Or (ph).

YANAI OR: The prime minister doesn't understand that he's disconnected from what's going on. He's not doing enough to calm the energy up. That's very scary because it could lead to civil war or something similar because, you know, people here are scared of no leadership.

ESTRIN: Well, now leadership, security officials are meeting today. Reportedly, they met and said that there is an immediate threat that Israel's regional enemies could attack at this moment when the country is weak and divided. I am now gathered outside Parliament where protesters are gathering, and everyone here is waiting to hear, will Netanyahu announce that he's putting a stop to his judicial overhaul? It was supposed to go to a final vote today.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. These overhauls include having control of judicial appointments and also maybe overriding Supreme Court decisions. What are the chances that he doesn't go through with it, announces that freeze?

ESTRIN: Well, if he does announce that he's freezing the core part of the legislation, which would be allowing the government to have some control over appointing Supreme Court justices - if he does freeze that legislation, he could try to hold a dialogue with the opposition and reach a compromise. But, you know, there's just too much bad blood. There is a complete lack of trust in Netanyahu. We've seen civil society erupt in a way that we've never seen before. Universities are canceled today as well. It's hard to see how Netanyahu's government moves forward at this moment with such a massive protest.

MARTÍNEZ: What would be those implications, though, if he does freeze? I mean, where does he go from there?

ESTRIN: Well, that is the question. If he does come out - and he is right now huddling with his government, trying to understand whether his government could fall if he announces he's canceling this legislation. You know, he could say he's taking Israel back from the brink of potential violence at this moment of turmoil. But whether or not he manages to survive this and actually stay in power with such massive protests - it's really hard to see that, A. The Pandora's box has been opened in Israel, and we don't know where it's headed.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.

Daniel, thank you very much.

ESTRIN: Thank you, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.