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Knesset vote to be delayed as judiciary reform dispute continues

The Knesset will postpone a key vote on the government’s controversial judicial overhaul at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a move that could derail talks with the opposition and spark an anti-legislative protest movement .

Lawmakers will elect two political representatives on Wednesday to join the country’s nine-member judicial selection committee, whose composition is one of the most important issues in the current six-month political crisis.

Historically, the government has appointed one political appointee and the opposition one, but several hardliners in Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition have demanded that both positions be filled by government representatives.

The vote was widely seen as a referendum on the future of the judicial reform package. Maintaining the status quo would appease the opposition, but would anger Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners and some members of the Likud party, threatening the stability of his government. The imminent retirement of two Supreme Court justices ups the ante.

Netanyahu sent mixed messages ahead of the scheduled vote, only to have his coalition announce at the last minute that it would vote against all candidates. If a secret ballot is deadlocked, a new ballot must be held within 30 days.

Opposition members of the Knesset said this week they would withdraw from compromise talks brokered by Israel’s puppet president Isaac Herzog if their nominated representatives were not elected to the committee on Wednesday. Negotiations have yielded little so far.

Protests against judicial reform are expected to take place on the streets of Tel Aviv on Wednesday night.

“Netanyahu has lost control of his government and is being held hostage by extremists,” centrist opposition leader Yar Lapid said as the vote took place. “He is destroying Israel’s democracy, our economy, our security and the unity of our society.”

Netanyahu returned to office in late December as prime minister for a sixth time, leading the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. It quickly announced wide-ranging legislation to rein in the Supreme Court’s excessive power and its apparent left-wing bias. The measures could also help Netanyahu evade prosecution in a corruption trial in which he denies all charges.

Critics at home and abroad say the reforms will remove democratic norms and politicize the judiciary.

The proposals, introduced in January, sparked Israel’s largest-ever protest movement, buoyed by unexpected pressure from Tel Aviv’s tech sector and military reservists.

Months of political turmoil took their toll on the shekel, which fell more than 2 percent against the dollar ahead of Wednesday’s vote before recovering slightly to a 1.4 percent loss.

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