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Netanyahu: Opponents of judicial reform ‘crossing red lines’

“Red lines have been crossed in recent days by extremist elements that have one goal: To intentionally bring about anarchy,” says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Feb. 12, 2023. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Feb. 12, 2023. Photo by Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday condemned calls by opponents of his government’s judicial reform plan to break the law, and called on them to act responsibly.

“I would like to strongly criticize the calls to break the law, for civil rebellion, to intentionally harm the economy, and even use weapons, by those who oppose government policy,” said Netanyahu. “Red lines cannot be crossed. Red lines have been crossed in recent days by extremist elements that have one goal: To intentionally bring about anarchy.”

His government had received a clear mandate from the people of Israel in a democratic election, he continued.

“Nobody here can deny this. Neither can anyone deny the right to demonstrate. However, there cannot be calls to violence, to act violently, to call for civil rebellion, to compel people to strike who do not want to do so. This is forbidden,” he said.

“I am certain that the vast majority of the citizens of Israel, whether they support the reform or not, oppose this extremism and will not allow the country to fall into anarchy. I call on everyone to lower the tone and begin a substantive dialogue. We have one country and together we will safeguard it.”

On Feb. 7, organizers of mass Saturday night protests against the reform plan called for a nationwide strike. They received backing from opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid Party.

Lapid tweeted on Feb. 8, “Employers need to allow every worker who wants to go to Jerusalem to fight for the country, to fight for our democracy and to say that we will not allow you to destroy our democracy.”

Also on Sunday, Justice Minister Yariv Levin accused Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and NGO The Movement for Quality Government in Israel of attempting to carry out a “coup d’etat” against Netanyahu.

“A group of lawyers who do not respect the results of the elections are working to carry out a coup d’état and put Prime Minister Netanyahu in prison,” said Levin.

“It’s no wonder that the partners in this move are the same ones who lead the opposition to the legal reform,” he added, listing Hayut, Baharav-Miara and the aforementioned NGO.

“An attempt to remove a prime minister against the law, while trampling on democratic choice, is no different from a coup carried out with tanks. The intention is the same intention, and the result is the same result,” he said.

Levin’s comments came on the heels of the Supreme Court hearing a petition submitted by the Movement for Quality Government calling for Netanyahu to be declared unfit for office. The petition argues that he is in breach of the Supreme Court’s May 2020 decision that he must avoid conflicts of interest pertaining to his ongoing criminal trial.

The Supreme Court on Friday gave Netanyahu one month to respond to the petition.

Members of Netanyahu’s coalition expressed anger that the court would even hear the petition, arguing that it amounted to an attempted coup.

The controversy began on Feb. 2, when Attorney General Baharav-Miara sent a letter to the prime minister ordering him to refrain from involving himself in his government’s judicial reform proposals due to conflict of interest.

The attorney general said her directive applies to “giving direct or indirect guidance through other parties, as far as the promotion of the [judicial reform] initiatives are concerned.

“The application of the limitations established by the [May 2020] High Court of Justice ruling leads to the general conclusion that you must refrain in your role as prime minister from taking part in initiatives touching on the legal system, in the framework of the process termed ‘legal reform,’ ” her letter stated.

Levin responded at the time, “It turns out that conflict of interest is a strange thing. An elected official is not allowed to talk about reform pertaining to legal advice, but the legal adviser and her team are allowed to act to thwart the reform that directly concerns their powers.”

It is not clear whether Netanyahu will abide by the attorney general’s decision. Levin, in unveiling the “first stage” of his judicial reform plan on Jan. 4, stressed that the legal advisers are “advisers, not deciders, who represent the government, and not their personal positions.” He called for an end to the “subjugation of the government to an unelected rank.”

Part of the judicial reform includes a draft bill being discussed in Knesset committee that would allow ministers to choose whether or not to follow their legal advisers’ opinions.

“Legal advice given to the prime minister and any minister of the government will not bind them. The government, the prime minister and any minister of the government may reject the legal advice and act contrary to it,” the bill’s summary states.

The first part of the judicial reform package goes to the Knesset on Monday. It deals with the selection of judges and the justiciability of Basic Laws, which have a quasi-constitutional status in Israel.

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