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Netanyahu, Levin reportedly seeking to halt judicial reform

Earlier, Netanyahu's ultra-Orthodox partners demanded the reform be halted to allow for the passing of a conscription law.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, soon to be justice minister, and incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak at the legislature in Jerusalem, Dec. 13, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, soon to be justice minister, and incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak at the legislature in Jerusalem, Dec. 13, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin have agreed to freeze their government’s judicial reform program for 12 months, Israel Hayom reported on Tuesday, citing anonymous coalition officials.

Netanyahu and Levin have asked for the blessing of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, the article said, with the two politicians hoping that formalizing the pause will contain the anti-government protests.

The Likud Party denied the reports, noted Israel Hayom.

“All the coalition heads are working in full cooperation to pass both the conscription law and the legal reform,” the ruling party said in a statement, one that the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party also signed.

Earlier on Tuesday, Hebrew media reported that Netanyahu’s haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, coalition partners demanded that the entire reform be halted “indefinitely” to allow for the passing of a law that would give haredim a near-total exemption from military service.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reportedly told haredi politicians, including Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri, that it would be impossible to enact the draft law in the current political climate. 

According to the ultra-Orthodox Kikar HaShabbat news site, the heads of the UTJ and Shas parties subsequently informed Netanyahu they would vote against any further “unilateral” (that is without support from the parliamentary opposition) judicial reform legislation, even if that would lead Levin to resign as justice minister.

On July 24, all 64 lawmakers in the governing coalition voted into law a bill to restrict judges’ use of the “reasonableness” standard. The amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary bars “reasonableness” as a justification for judges to reverse decisions made by the Cabinet, ministers and “other elected officials as set by law.”

Netanyahu has said that his government will seek an agreement with the opposition on the rest of the judicial reform package during the Knesset’s summer recess, which started two weeks ago.

In a recent interview with Fox News, the prime minister denied that the reform push was weakening Israel’s democracy, as its opponents claim, stating that it was in fact “strengthening democracy. We’re bringing it back in line to where most democracies are. Where Israel was in its first five decades and where it should be now in the coming decades.”

In July, Likud rejected a demand by the opposition to freeze all judicial reform legislation until 2025. “[Oppostion leader] Yair Lapid is ready to talk with Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas] without preconditions, but for Likud he is setting out a list of preconditions for talks,” the party said.

“As long as there is no legislative freeze, there is no point and no sense to talk about other laws or agreements, because it is quite clear that the government will run away again at the last minute,” Lapid told Knesset members on July 30.

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