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Netanyahu: ‘There won’t be a civil war’ over judicial reform

The prime minister told NBC News that "when the dust settles people will see that Israel's democracy has been strengthened, not weakened."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference on the planned construction of a new railway line from the northern city of Kiryat Shmona to the city of Eilat, in Jerusalem, July 30, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference on the planned construction of a new railway line from the northern city of Kiryat Shmona to the city of Eilat, in Jerusalem, July 30, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured NBC News on Monday that wherever the debate in Israel over his government’s judicial reform effort leads, it won’t be to violence.

“There won’t be civil war. I guarantee you that,” the premier told the U.S. network’s foreign correspondent Rafael Sanchez in his office in Jerusalem.

However, he continued, “I think that correcting the imbalance in Israel’s democracy where the judiciary has basically arrogated [to] itself nearly all the powers of the executive branch and the legislature, yes, I think it is important to do it.”

The prime minister has been conducting a series of interviews with foreign media following his government’s passage last week of a key piece of judicial reform legislation.

On July 24, all 64 coalition lawmakers voted into law an amendment to Israel’s Basic Law: The Judiciary barring “reasonableness” as a justification for judges to reverse decisions made by the Cabinet, ministers and “other elected officials as set by law.”

“I think when the dust settles people will see that Israel’s democracy has been strengthened, and not weakened, and I think people’s fears, that have been stoked and whipped up, those will subside and they will see that Israel is just as democratic as it was before and even more democratic,” said Netanyahu on Monday.

All 15 of Israel’s Supreme Court justices will convene in September to hear eight petitions to cancel the amendment, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut announced on Monday.

Among the petitioners are the Israel Bar Association, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and the Movement for Civil Democracy.

The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sept. 12, three days before the start of the High Holidays. The government will have to file its response 10 days earlier.

It will be the first time in the court’s 75-year history that a 15-justice panel has presided over a case.

Asked by Sanchez if he would abide by a Supreme Court decision striking down the amendment, Netanyahu said that he hoped it would not happen, noting that it would mean that the Supreme Court is “turning on itself” by nullyifing an amendment to a Basic Law—a set of laws that it has determined are a substitute for a written constitution.

“Israeli governments abide by the decisions of the Supreme Court, and at the same time the Supreme Court respects the Basic Laws, which is the closest thing we have to a constitution. I think we should keep both principles and I hope we do,” said Netanyahu.

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