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Netanyahu calls for unity ahead of judicial reform vote next week

There had been speculation that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant might halt the process in a nationwide speech on Thursday night, but in the end, he did not join the prime minister.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the nation on judicial reform on March 23, 2023. Source: Screenshot.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the nation on judicial reform on March 23, 2023. Source: Screenshot.

In a 10-minute speech to the nation that began around 8:40 p.m. local time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said judicial reform will continue and that there will be a vote next week before the Knesset.

Speaking in Hebrew, Netanyahu called for unity. “I say this evening: I believe that it is possible to enact a reform that will answer both sides, a reform that will restore the proper balance between the authorities and, on the other hand, safeguard, and I say beyond that, not just safeguard but ensure the individual rights of every citizen in the country,” he said.

“We have not come to run over and to trample. We have come to balance and correct,” he added. “Therefore, we are determined to correct and responsibly advance the democratic reform that will restore the proper balance between the authorities.”

Netanyahu said that to date, his hands had been tied.

“We reached the absurdity that if I had entered this event, as my position requires, they threatened to compel me to take a leave of absence, which would nullify the results of the election and the will of millions of citizens,” he said. “This is an absurdity that cannot be in a proper democracy.”

“No more,” Netanyahu added. “I am entering the arena. I am laying aside any other consideration, for our people, and for our country, I will do everything in my power to find a solution.”

There was speculation that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant would call for an immediate halt to the reform package, which has divided the country. After reportedly being summoned to Netanyahu’s office, Gallant did not join the prime minister at the podium.

The prime minister rebuffed claims that the reforms are fascistic. “This is not the end of democracy but the strengthening of democracy,” he said. To make his point, he quoted Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, who is not in favor of all the reforms.

“If all of these reforms were enacted—and I oppose most, but not all of them—it would turn Israel into, God forbid, Canada or New Zealand or Australia, or many European countries. It would not turn it into Poland. It would not turn it into an autocratic country,” said Dershowitz.

In every democracy, including the United States, representatives of the people select judges, said Netanyahu.

“There are hardly any exceptions to this, very few. Then the U.S. is not a democracy? New Zealand is not a democracy? Canada is not a democracy?” he asked rhetorically. There is criticism in Israel that the court operates with a “friend brings a friend” system, Netanyahu said. “Under the current system, judges have a veto on the appointment of judges and, in effect, they appoint themselves, which does not occur in any other democracy in the world,” he said.

Netanyahu allowed that those who oppose the reforms have legitimate concerns and said he will assume a more active role in the negotiations to protect everyone’s rights.

“Opponents of the reform are not traitors; supporters of the reform are not fascists,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of the citizens of Israel, from across the political spectrum, love our country and want to maintain our democracy.”

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