Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed his support for a far-reaching judicial reform program, speaking during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on Monday.
“The reform will be launched, and just as we weren’t daunted in the past from the attacks by the left and the media, we will not be daunted this time either,” Netanyahu said. “The discussion in most media channels around the legal reforms is intentionally superficial and one-sided. Everything is designed to foment false panic about the ‘end of democracy.’ ”
Only in Israel do judges self-select their members and attorneys-general decide government policy, Netanyahu said.
“The one who is offside versus democracy is the State of Israel and when we want to align with the leading countries in the world they say we are destroying democracy. Are they saying that France and the U.S. aren’t democracies?
“This is absolute absurdity. We have no intention of apologizing for the initiative, just the opposite—throughout the elections, the issue came up time after time and [now-Minister of Justice Yariv] Levin emphasized it, and so did the [current] speaker of the Knesset and members of the Likud,” he added.
On Jan. 4, Levin revealed the first stage of the plan, which includes changing the way judges are selected, passing an ‘override clause,’ and empowering ministers to hire and fire their own legal advisers.
Said Levin: “The constitutional revolution [led by the Supreme Court in the 1990s] and the increasing interference of the judiciary in the decisions of the government and in the legislation of the Knesset have degraded the trust in the judicial system to a dangerous low, led to a loss of sovereignty and severe damage to democracy.
“We go to the polls, vote, choose, but time and time again people we didn’t choose decide for us,” he continued.
The prime minister on Sunday defended the reforms and called on opposition leaders to stop threatening “civil war” and speaking of “the destruction of the state.”
Netanyahu began his remarks at Sunday’s Security Cabinet meeting by noting that in November “there was a huge demonstration, the mother of all demonstrations. Millions of people went into the streets in order to vote in the election. One of the main topics that they voted on was reforming the judicial system.
“In recent days, I have heard about an attempt to claim that the public did not know what it was voting for. So here is a quote, one of many, from me and my colleagues during the election campaign. This is my quote: ‘We will make the necessary changes in the judicial system, prudently and responsibly. We are going to change the system, to save it and not destroy it.’”
Words to this effect had been uttered in the past by both right- and left-wing governments, he continued, “and nobody thought then that it was the ‘end of democracy.’ ”
The true aim of the reforms is to “restore the balance between the branches of government that existed in Israel for 50 years, and which is maintained today in all Western democracies,” he continued.
Netanyahu urged opposition leaders to instead engage in “in-depth and serious dialogue” on the proposals in the Knesset and its associated committees, while urging the public to not “be swept away by inflammatory slogans about civil war and the destruction of the state.”
His comments came after an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Israelis took to the streets on Saturday evening for demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem against the proposed reforms.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said on Sunday that “profound” disagreement over the government’s judicial reform plan was tearing the country apart, and vowed to work towards averting a constitutional crisis.