(Tel Aviv) Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant on Saturday evening called for a month-long pause in the government’s judicial reform process, as tens of thousands of Israelis continue to protest in Tel Aviv against this controversial project.

Demonstrations have followed each week since the presentation in January by the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, one of the most right-wing in the history of Israel, of a reform project which divides the country.

Arousing concern in the country, but also abroad, the reform aims to increase the power of elected officials over that of magistrates. According to its critics, it jeopardizes the democratic character of the State of Israel.

In a speech Saturday evening, Mr. Galant expressed concern that continued divisions among the population over the issue pose a “real threat to Israel’s security.”

“We have to stop the legislative process” for a month, he said, ahead of a crucial week that is expected to see more legislation and more mass protests.

He felt that whoever wins this tussle, “in the streets or in the Knesset” (Parliament), “it would be the State of Israel that would be the loser.”

Mr. Galant meanwhile called for an end to the protests, as some 200,000 protesters had gathered in Tel Aviv, according to Israeli media estimates.

“We are here today to speak out and add our voices to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Israelis who support the values ​​this country was founded on,” such as ‘democracy’ and ‘tolerance,'” Daniel Nisman, 36, who works in the high-tech sector, told AFP.

“The laws that are being passed now are laws that aim to make the government the only master on board and to destroy the separation of powers,” said Daphne Oren-Magidor, 41, a historian.

In Jerusalem, thousands of protesters marched past the residence of President Isaac Herzog.

For Harriet Scher, 80, the reforms “will mostly affect people on the margins: lesbians, gays and the Arab population. It will not be good for the country if they (the politicians) have total control over the Supreme Court,” she added.

Israel’s main allies, including Washington, have questioned plans to give more power to politicians and reduce the role of the Supreme Court.

US President Joe Biden has expressed “concerns” about these judicial reforms, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday.

In London on Friday, where he met his British counterpart Rishi Sunak, Netanyahu was also greeted by hundreds of protesters.

Sunak stressed during the meeting “the importance of respecting the democratic values ​​that underpin the relationship (between the two countries), including in the judicial reform project in Israel”, according to a spokesman at Downing Street.

Mr. Netanyahu and his far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies believe this reform project is necessary to restore a balanced balance of power between elected officials and the Supreme Court, which they consider politicized.

Israeli MPs are expected to vote next week on one of the central elements of the reform, at the heart of the concerns of its detractors, foreseeing the change in the process for appointing judges.

Mr. Netanyahu, who had so far remained in the background on this file, pledged Thursday evening in a speech to “end the division among the people”, while underlining his determination to push forward the reform.

The next day, he was called to order by the courts, which deemed his public intervention “illegal” given his ongoing corruption trials.

The text of the bill was amended in committee to soften its content with a view to achieving a broader vote, but without the support of the opposition, which continues to demand “a pause” in the legislative work on the reform before any negotiation with the majority.