Proposals from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for judicial reform have made headline news around the world.
A reported 100,000 protestors rallied outside the Knesset on Monday over coalition plans for the judicial system. Protestors chanted “democracy” and “no to dictatorship” in one of the largest protests outside the Knesset for many years.
The furore has seen a bitter war of words between coalition and opposition leaders this week.
President Isaac Herzog addressed the nation on Sunday night and met with opposition leaders as a follow up at his home in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night. He also met with a backer of the coalition’s proposed reforms.
Former PM Yair Lapid thanked Herzog and stressed the importance of reaching a “broad consensus”,
Simcha Rothman, Chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee welcomed Herzog’s “willingness” to reach a consensus to repair the justice system.
National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz told reporters: “First, the legislation must stop, the justice system must not be politicised and we must promote a comprehensive step that includes passing Basic Law: Legislation and arrange the balance between the branches.”
Herzog called for proposals to be postponed until a compromise is reached during his address and warned that Israel was on the brink of a “judicial and social crisis”.
“This is not a political dispute,” Herzog said. “We are on the verge of a constitutional and social collapse.” He added: “Change can be legitimate. The courts can better represent the spectrum of Israeli society.”
Herzog presented five principles for dialogue for a “broad agreement” including for the government to show restraint over passing new legislation at a first reading, discussions over the court’s workload and a lack of diversity among the judiciary.
A number of Netanyahu supporters back compromise based on Herzog’s presentation.
Yuli Edelstein tweeted: “We must come together for the people of Israel.” Knesset Finance Committee Chairman David Bitan added: “There’s no doubt that a compromise is necessary,” adding that everyone must abandon an “all-or-nothing approach”. “We’re on the right path but there’s always room for compromise,” noted Bitan.
Justice Minister Levin responded, “The president’s proposal contains positive elements, and it has elements that perpetuate the improper existing situation.”
Levin and Chairman of the Knesset’s Justice Committee Simcha Rothman invited opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz to discuss the proposals on Monday.
Lapid accepted but only if the legislative process is stopped.
He reportedly observed: “The necessary condition for the beginning of a national dialog is the immediate cessation of all legislative processes for a period of time in which the talks will be brokered by the president.” Lapid added: “If MK Levin and MK Rothman agree to this, we will be happy to deliberate at the president’s official residence tomorrow morning.”
Levin and Rothman called for responsible Knesset members in the opposition to act differently.
“We will be happy to meet with any opposition party that is interested in real dialog,” they stated.
Lapid hit back: “If Levin and Rothman had taken their proposal seriously, they would have agreed to stop the legislation until the end of talks and maybe even bothered to update the president and me in advance of their proposal, rather than letting us hear about it from the media.”
A number of legislative changes passed during a heated session on Tuesday to chants of “shame!” outside the Knesset.
The full parliament will vote on various issues that could be debated for a number of weeks.
In an ever-changing narrative the political battle is being followed by the world’s media.
The New York Times ran a page one article over the divisions.
“The scale of the protest reflected a deep disagreement in Israeli society over the ideal structure and future of the country’s democratic institutions,” the paper wrote, adding that proposed legislation raised fears of a ‘civil war’.
President Joe Biden told the paper on Sunday that it was rare for a U.S. leader to express an opinion on “constitutional matters” in Israel.
“The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary,” Biden said in a statement. “Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.”
CNN reported on Netanyahu’s plan plunging the country into a ‘social collapse’.
They stated: “The most significant of the changes would allow a simple majority in the Knesset to overturn Supreme Court rulings.”
Among many news agencies, Reuters reported on an “uproar in the Knesset” as “Israeli lawmakers traded insults” whilst the plans had triggered “angry protests across Israel for weeks”.
Netanyahu, during his weekly cabinet session, criticised calls for civil rebellion by those who oppose government policy and called on the opposition to act responsibly.
“It is possible to argue and to have dialogue,” he noted. “It is possible to suggest alternatives, this is necessary, but 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.
“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.”
During the political furore, former National Security Council heads reportedly warned the Knesset Speaker that societal and political clashes were “endangering Israel’s social resilience” and called for coalition and opposition leaders to enter “serious talks without preconditions”.
And eight retired Supreme Court judges described proposed changes as “a serious threat” to the justice system and “our way of life”. Changes could bring “disaster on Israel”, they noted.
Meantime, seven Nobel Prize winners noted the the proposals would have “negative impacts” on research at institutions of higher education.
There were mass prayers “to save democracy” at the Western Wall.
Amidst the furore a bill passed for Shas leader Aryeh Deri to return to government despite a Supreme Court ruling halting him from his post as Health and Interior minister