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Judicial reform talks resume in Jerusalem

Coalition representatives are meeting with counterparts from the Yesh Atid and National Unity opposition parties under the auspices of the president.

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

Negotiations over the Israeli government’s judicial reform initiative resumed on Monday as coalition representatives met with counterparts from the Yesh Atid and National Unity parties at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who is mediating between the sides, said the talks would be “focused and rigorous” and cover all core issues.

“The Office of the President continues to do everything in its power to encourage the sides to adhere to dialogue with the aim of bringing about a broad consensus,” said a statement from the president’s office.

Herzog jump-started talks late last month after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in a national address that he was putting a hold on the reform effort in order to “provide a real opportunity for real dialogue.”

The coalition’s negotiating team includes Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer; Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs; professor Talia Einhorn of Ariel University; and Aviad Bakshi, head of the legal department at the Kohelet Policy Forum.

Yesh Atid is being represented by lawmakers Orna Barbivai and Karine Elharrar, Na’ama Schultz, an aide to opposition and party leader Yair Lapid, and attorney Oded Gazit. National Unity’s team includes parliamentarians Gideon Sa’ar, Yehiel Tropper, Orit Farkash-Hacohen and attorney Ronan Aviani.

Israeli media reported on Sunday that the talks have produced a proposal regarding a major piece of the government’s program. Under the proposal, Supreme Court justices and politicians would not sit on the Judicial Selection Committee but would instead select members according to certain criteria. The coalition, opposition and judges would have the opportunity to choose committee members in different areas of expertise, such as academics, researchers, retired judges and senior attorneys. However, agreement has not been reached on the number of committee members that the ruling coalition and the political opposition would choose.

Meanwhile, protests against judicial reform entered their fifteenth week as thousands of demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday night. Thousands of heretofore quiescent supporters of reform also attended protests across the country.

The latest protests came after Am Echad, a U.S. group associated with the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, sent an open letter last week to Lapid expressing “grave concern” over comments he made at a Jewish Federations meeting in New York.

“Rhetoric characterizing the government as ‘extremist’ and ‘undemocratic’ jeopardizes the relationship between Israel and world Jews,” wrote Shlomo Werdiger and Irving Lebovics, co-chairmen of Am Echad. “More importantly, when such statements move into mainstream media, they delegitimize Israel itself, and by extension pose real danger to the safety of Diaspora communities.”

“In your role as the Head of the Opposition, you are both entitled and required to critique the government. However, that does not extend to undermining the government outside the borders of Israel, calling on Diaspora Jews to counter the government, and driving a wedge between Israel and Jews around the world,” they added.

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