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Israeli opposition issues ultimatum over reform talks

Yesh Atid is demanding that Justice Minister Yariv Levin convene the Judicial Selection Committee by the end of June.

Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

As judicial reform negotiations resumed on Tuesday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, the opposition vowed to walk away from the talks unless the government convenes the Judicial Selection Committee by the end of June.

“If the committee for selecting judges is not convened, if representatives are not appointed … we will not be there [at the talks],” Yesh Atid Knesset member Meirav Cohen told Israel Radio on Wednesday.

“We will not continue to cooperate with the process. It is not possible for them [the coalition] to hold the entire justice system hostage,” she said.

While fellow opposition party National Unity initially disagreed with Yesh Atid’s position, saying it could not make such a demand of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, it has since reconsidered.

The committee’s composition has been a central negotiation issue as it appoints Israel’s judges, and whoever controls it determines the type of judges appointed.

The committee is made up of three Supreme Court justices (one must be the court president), two government ministers (of which the justice minister is one), two Knesset members and two members of the Israel Bar Association.

(A key platform of the government’s reform plan is to change the makeup of the committee, which it says gives judges a solid majority, but it has frozen the bill amending the committee’s composition pending negotiations.)

Of the two Knesset members appointed, one has always been from the coalition and one from the opposition. This has led to an additional rift among opposition parties as they vie to see their candidate chosen.

To calm tensions within their camp, National Unity and Yesh Atid issued a joint statement on Tuesday signaling they were acting in unison.

“We continue all the time in a genuine attempt to reach broad agreements, and are committed to keeping Israel democratic and stable,” they said.

They included a message directed to the coalition, declaring that talks at the President’s Residence were the “only possibility for finding a common solution” and were conditional on the government continuing to freeze reform legislation in the Knesset.

For their part, key coalition figures have urged that the government advance judicial reform if talks lead nowhere.

Levin reportedly said at a Cabinet meeting at the start of the week: “Mr. Prime Minister, a post-Zionist minority is trying to impose its values ​​through the judicial system. Change will only come from a deep and fundamental transformation, when there is someone in the chair of the Supreme Court president who truly values equality.”

He added: “We will not sit here forever. This is a government with a historic opportunity to make these changes.” If the coalition fails to act, he said, it will find itself in a position where the left is again in power and won’t take any heed of the opinion or actions of the right.

MK Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism Party, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and a key figure in the coalition’s judicial reform plan, also dismissed the talks on Tuesday, calling them “meaningless.”

“They are not interesting and I don’t waste my time on them. They’re futile,” he said, adding that if the president had wanted to reach an agreement, he had had “thousands of opportunities to do so.”

Rothman said the talks should never have been started in the first place and that the legislation should never have been frozen.

Anti-judicial reform protest organizers also oppose the talks.

In a statement on Tuesday, they warned National Unity chairman Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid that the negotiations at the President’s Residence only served Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interests “and will drag us on a direct path to dictatorship. They must withdraw from the talks and demand the repeal of the legislation.”

Netanyahu said on Tuesday that judicial reform “wasn’t dead,” but that the coalition was doing “everything” to reach a broad agreement.

He has said previously that the opposition’s agreement is necessary so that the reforms will be permanent and not simply reversed the next time the opposition comes into power.

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