Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, announced some amendments to his judicial overhaul plans after facing major protests and both domestic and international criticism for what critics see as an attack on democracy in the country by a hardline government.
Netanyahu’s move was seen as an effort to soften the legislation by limiting the number of lawmakers on the new Judicial Selection Committee and give the government less clout in courts. His government said the amendments are meant to extend a “hand to anyone who genuinely cares about national unity and the desire to reach an agreed accord,” according to Russian news outlet RT.
Yair Lapid, the opposition leader, rejected the changes.
“This most recent coalition proposal is a blueprint for a hostile takeover of the justice system,” Lapid said on Twitter.
Netanyahu’s latest move comes after another challenging week.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s effort to calm the country failed and new protests broke out in major cities last weekend that led to clashes with police.
Netanyahu has called protesters instigators and said he is just making good on his campaign promises. He tweeted in response to Herzog’s proposals and said, “Key sections of the outline he presented only perpetuate the existing situation and do not bring the required balance to the Israeli authorities. This is the unfortunate truth.”
Netanyahu made the tweet while heading to Germany to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who expressed “great concern” over the reforms and urged him to reconsider his position.
“As democratic value partners and close friends of Israel, we are following this debate [over the planned judicial reforms] very closely and–I will not hide this–with great concern,” Scholz said, according to Politico. “The independence of the judiciary is a high democratic good.”
Scholz even appeared to endorse Herzog’s proposals.
“We know that President Herzog last night also made concrete proposals for resolving the difficult situation. As friends of Israel, we would like to see that the last word has not yet been said about this proposal,” Scholz said.
President Joe Biden also had a phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday and expressed concerns about the proposals. A White House official told the Associated Press the conversation was “candid and constructive.”
Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, has said he is opposed to the judicial reforms and called on world leaders to boycott Netanyahu.
TRENDPOST: The Trends Journal has been reporting extensively on protests aimed at Netanyahu. (See “NEARLY 160,000 ATTENDED PROTEST IN TEL AVIV TO LASH OUT AT NETANYAHU’S JUDICIAL REFORM PUSH” 28 Feb 2023, “PROTESTS KEEP ERUPTING IN ISRAEL, ELITE AIR FORCE RESERVISTS STRIKE” 7 Mar 2023 and “NETANYAHU’S MOVE TO WEAKEN COURTS GROWING.”)
Netanyahu’s government’s attempt to overhaul the country’s judicial system that critics say weakens the judiciary and gives lawmakers more power, they say.
Yariv Levin, the justice minister, wants lawmakers to be able to override Supreme Court decisions. The country’s judges are currently nominated by other judges, but Levin wants the Knesset to take over these nominations. The Knesset would also be able to overrule court decisions with a simple majority.
Herzog said it is wrong to think that a civil war isn’t looming.
“Whoever thinks real civil war, including bloodshed, is out of reach, has no idea. The abyss is within reach. A civil war is the red line. I will not let that happen,” he said.
More than 700 elite officers from Israel’s Air Force and Mossad said they would stop volunteering for duty over the judicial reform push on Saturday as Israel faced another country-wide protest for the 11th straight week.
The AFP reported that thousands of protesters took to the streets in Dizengoff square, which is in Tel Aviv. They waved the Israeli flag and the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ community, the report said. Some blocked roads.
“I’m worried not about myself, but for my daughters and grandchildren,” Naama Mazor, 64, a retiree from the city of Herzliya, told the AFP. “We want to keep Israel democratic and liberal, Jewish of course, but liberal. We are very concerned it is going to become a dictatorship. There isn’t a half-democracy. We’re either a democracy or a dictatorship. There is nothing in between.”
Yoni Leviatan, an American-Israeli musician and writer, wrote in Newsweek last week that Netanyahu’s government has already laid out its dreams. He wrote that prosecutors would be prevented from going after Netanyahu’s corruption charges, jail women who are not dressed in approved clothing, “bar 13-year-old girls from singing if there is even one ultra-Orthodox man in a crowd, ban secular hospital patients from eating bread during Passover, reverse two-decades-old Israeli laws to progress West Bank annexation, take more billions than ever from hardworking Israelis and give it to the ultra-Orthodox so they can study Torah all day instead of working or providing any kind of service to society—plus politicize the police so they can enforce this all.”