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Coalition members call on opposition to meet over judicial reform proposal

The overture was rejected by opposition head Yair Lapid, who is demanding the proposed legislation be frozen as a precondition for talks.

Then-Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin attends a plenum session, Dec. 26, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Then-Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin attends a plenum session, Dec. 26, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman on Monday evening called on leaders of the opposition to meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to discuss the government’s judicial reform program.

“Following the call of the president of the state last night, our offices are currently contacting the offices of the head of the opposition and the chairman of Yesh Atid, MK Yair Lapid, and the chairman of the National Unity Party, MK Benny Gantz, in order to coordinate a joint meeting as soon as this evening,” said the lawmakers in a joint statement.

“We call on the heads of the opposition to begin negotiations without preconditions. It is time,” they added.

Lapid rejected the overture, saying he would only agree to meet if the proposed legislation was paused.

“As the president stressed yesterday and as explained time and again, the necessary condition to start a national dialogue is an immediate halt of all legislation processes for a designated period of time, during which talks will be held with the president’s mediation,” he said.

“If Minister Levin and MK Rothman agree to this, we would be happy to meet at the President’s Residence tomorrow morning,” Lapid added.

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday voted to send the first bill in the government’s judicial reform package for its first reading in the full plenum, which is likely to take place next week.

The bill has been formulated as an amendment to Basic Law: Judiciary and would give the government control over the Judicial Selection Committee with five of the panel’s nine members, and only a simple majority needed to appoint judges.

Opponents of this particular change argue that it would give the coalition too much power, whereas proponents have pointed to the U.S. Senate, which approves Supreme Court justices by simple majority, often along partisan lines.

Before the committee vote, opposition lawmakers shouted down members of the coalition, with some having to be physically restrained. Many parliamentarians were ejected from the meeting.

Lapid earlier Monday slammed the government at a mass rally protesting its judicial reform plan held outside the Knesset in Jerusalem.

“Millions of Israelis are watching us, seeing how a corrupt extremist government wants to destroy the country at record speed,” Lapid told the estimated 60,000 demonstrators.

“They hear our strength and our commitment. They pretend they don’t hear and that they’re not afraid—but they hear and are afraid. Outwardly, in front of the cameras, they grin sarcastically, saying it won’t change a thing,” he continued. “[But] they’re trembling as rulers have always trembled when they discovered that there were people facing them who were not ready to give up.

“We will fight in the streets, we’ll fight until we win,” Lapid said.

Gantz also addressed the crowd: “We can’t let society collapse from within—and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you are destroying Israeli society from within and we won’t let you do it.”

In response, Netanyahu called on opposition leaders to stop leading Israel into chaos.

“I call on the leaders of the opposition: Stop this. Stop deliberately dragging the country into anarchy. Get over yourself. Show responsibility and leadership because you’re doing the exact opposite,” the prime minister said in a video posted to social media.

“Look what happened today in Jerusalem: The opposition is going wild inside the Knesset and its members are jumping on the tables. [Tel Aviv Mayor] Ron Huldai is explicitly inciting bloodshed, and the leftist demonstration is calling the prime minister a ‘traitor,’ ” he said.

Netanyahu concluded: “The majority of Israelis don’t want anarchy. They want a substantive discourse and in the end they want unity.”

Huldai earlier said that Israel was headed towards dictatorship and bloodshed if the government moves forward with its judicial reform plan.

“This is the history of the world. Countries become dictatorships through the use of democratic tools…. Countries do not become democratic again, except with bloodshed,” he said.

Herzog, in an address to the nation on Sunday night, presented five principles as “a basis for immediate and decisive negotiations that will arrange the relations between the government branches.”

He first proposed the passage of a Basic Law: The Constitution that would establish “constitutional stability” by clarifying the relations among the three branches and between various laws. He also said the number of judges must be increased to decrease judicial workload, and the courts must be made to function more efficiently so that cases won’t drag on. And he urged a change in the way judges are selected so that no branch of government has a majority say in choosing them.

In his final principle, Herzog took a position advocated by proponents of reform, arguing against the judicial rationale of “reasonability,” whereby judges can overturn laws and government decisions based on whether they consider them “reasonable.”

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