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Netanyahu: Opposition using judicial reforms as pretext to undo election

The repeated rejection of dialogue proves the opposition seeks “anarchy and the overthrow of the elected government,” said the premier.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset, March 6, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset, March 6, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday accused the opposition of trying to overthrow his government and vowed to continue pressing ahead with its judicial reform program.

“Only four months ago we held elections. The government I head received a clear mandate from the citizens of Israel. The fact that for two whole months our repeated calls for dialogue received no response from the opposition proves that what interests the opposition is not the judicial reforms, but the creation of anarchy and the overthrow of the elected government,” said Netanyahu.

“It is impossible to be in favor of the success of the Israeli economy and to encourage the flight of funds from Israel. It is impossible to be in favor of the rule of law and to encourage violations of the law. It is impossible to be in favor of the security of the state and to encourage insubordination that would collapse the security of the state.

“There is no conditional Zionism,” said the premier.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu expressed hope that “honest” and “patriotic” members of the opposition, “those who care about the country,” will step up and engage in talks.

“But in any case,” he continued, “let no one make a mistake: We received a mandate from the public, and we will fulfill it.”

The comments come after Israelis once again took to the streets on Saturday night to protest against the government’s proposed judicial reforms, with large turnouts in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheva.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid told an estimated 10,000-strong crowd in Beersheva that “Israel is in the greatest crisis in its history.”

The Yesh Atid Party chairman continued: “A terrible wave of terrorism is hitting us, the economy is collapsing, money is fleeing the country. Here in the South, personal security is collapsing every day. Yesterday, the Iranians signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia that will inject billions of dollars into their nuclear program. These are huge, historic challenges, but the government has lost interest. The only thing the government is interested in is continuing to crush Israeli democracy and the unity of the Israeli people.”

National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz tweeted that the answer to the government’s “coup” was “protest,” as “we will not allow them to turn Israel into a dictatorship.”

Last week, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, one of the main architects of the reforms, met with several prominent public figures who drafted a reform compromise proposal. Levin responded favorably to the outline, with sources from his office reportedly calling it a “breakthrough” and the “first outline that goes outside the box.”

A day earlier, Levin and MK Simcha Rothman, another principal advocate of the reforms who chairs the Knesset Law Committee that is dealing with the legislation, accepted a proposal by the Israel Manufacturers Association, the Chambers of Commerce and groups representing tech companies and building contractors for talks starting at the President’s Residence without preconditions.

“From the very first day we said we were in favor of a dialogue in an attempt to reach an understanding on the reform and at least to reduce the controversy,” the leaders of the reform said in a joint statement. “We respond to the call for talks without preconditions and call on others in the opposition to respond to the initiate and attend talks with the president on Tuesday.”

Opposition leaders swiftly rejected the proposal.

Netanyahu, who has been barred by the attorney general from discussing the specifics of the reform program due to a possible conflict of interest with his ongoing criminal trial, called on the opposition to present its own proposal for judicial overhaul.

“For eight weeks we have been calling for negotiations. We are bringing the reform to the Knesset to decide,” he said last Sunday. “I call upon those in the opposition to do something simple: Present your alternative in an attempt to reach an agreement.”

The premier said that with goodwill an agreement could be reached “within days.”

Lapid and Gantz rejected the overture and conditioned any negotiations on the government freezing the accompanying legislative process.

President Isaac Herzog last Monday told a gathering of some 100 municipal officials that a compromise judicial reform proposal was nearly complete, and called on lawmakers to find common ground.

“I have already said that it is absolutely legitimate to discuss reforming the judicial system, and aspects of the proposal are indeed advisable. In the last few weeks, I have done everything in my power to bring about discussion and enable the sides to reach an agreement,” said Herzog.

“We are closer than ever to the possibility of an outline. There are agreements behind the scenes on most things,” he continued. “Now it depends on our national leadership, the coalition and the opposition, who need to rise to the occasion and understand the terrible alternative and put the country and its citizens above everything else.”

Protesters on Thursday staged another day of disruptive demonstrations, on what was dubbed a “Day of Resistance to Dictatorship.” Demonstrators attempted to shut down Israel’s primary international gateway by driving back and forth between the entrance to Ben-Gurion Airport and Terminal 3, its main passenger facility.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir accused the opposition of “trying to blackmail us with threats, protests and blocked roads that will only be opened if there is no reform. It won’t matter,” he said. “The reform will pass by the end of the month.”

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