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Smotrich accuses Herzog of left-wing bias in reform talks

The finance minister spoke as the coalition restarts the legislative process.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, May 30, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, May 30, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Tuesday accused President Isaac Herzog of not being a neutral arbiter in the judicial reform talks between the coalition and opposition.

Herzog is a “leftist” and therefore cannot be a fair mediator, the Religious Zionism Party leader said in an interview with haredi radio station Kol Barama.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paused the reform program in late March to allow for time to reach an agreement. That announcement was followed by a series of meetings hosted by Herzog involving various Knesset factions with the aim of forging a compromise.

President Isaac Herzog leads negotiations on judicial reform at his official residence in Jerusalem, March 28, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.

“There are elements on the left, the opponents of the reform, who are ready to burn down the club [i.e. the country] and harm security and the economy,” Smotrich said.

“[There are] irresponsible actors like [former Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert and [former IDF Chief of Staff Dan] Halutz who are crazy and ready to dismantle everything. We will lead the changes with responsibility and discretion,” the finance minister continued.

Netanyahu on Sunday said his coalition will move ahead with parts of the judicial reform initiative this week. On Monday, Smotrich announced that coalition leaders had reached an agreement to restart the legislative process.

Smotrich said that he instructed Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee head Simcha Rothman to start advancing a bill as early as Wednesday to prevent the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, from ruling on the “reasonableness” of government decisions.

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman, March 19, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Meanwhile, protest leaders are threatening to hit the streets en masse again.

“Netanyahu’s decision to promote unilateral legislation will bring the protest back to greater intensities than it ever was and will lead us to a situation where we will have to fight one another,” Haltuz told Army Radio on Tuesday.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said in an interview with 103FM on Tuesday that the opposition never intended to stop the Herzog-brokered negotiations. Lapid blamed the coalition for the talks not resuming.

“We told them, ‘Pick a [opposition Knesset member] representative for the [Judicial Selection] Committee, and we will continue the talks,'” he said.

MK Karine Elharrar from Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party was selected to fill a spot on the Judicial Selection Committee but since no coalition lawmaker was chosen as well, the committee cannot meet and appoint new judges.

“There was an agreement—we vote in a [Judicial Selection] Committee and go back to negotiating. They didn’t choose a committee because they got into one of their ridiculous disagreements,” Lapid said.

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