As PM endorses judicial overhaul, Gantz urges mass protest to ‘make country tremble’

As PM endorses judicial overhaul, Gantz urges mass protest to ‘make country tremble’

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued on Monday to defend the sweeping judicial reform his Likud party is spearheading as a necessary and publicly approved move to rebalance political and judicial power, leading opposition figures called on Israelis to take to the streets to fight against what they called measures to destroy democracy.

“What we are trying to do is bring Israel back to the right balance” between political and judicial authorities, Netanyahu said, claiming that his government’s reforms would divide Israel’s powers in a similar way to those in the United States. United States and European countries. The multi-pronged plan to increase political power over the judiciary “does not destroy democracy” but instead “rehabilitates” it, he said.

Speaking at the start of the weekly meeting of the Knesset’s Likud faction, Netanyahu added that “we have received a clear mandate from the public to execute” his coalition’s election plans, including judicial reform. . “We are not afraid of the one-sided media campaign against us,” he added.

But Benny Gantz, who leads the centre-right opposition National Unity party, told a meeting of his faction that the government’s justice reform plan would lead to “civil war”. Urging the public to legally take to the streets, he added: “It’s time to come out en masse and demonstrate; it’s time to make the country shake.”

Echoing Gantz’s harsh criticism of the government’s judiciary overhaul plan, opposition leader Yair Lapid warned that “this is extreme regime change” and that the reforms are “eliminating democracy”. Lapid, speaking at the start of Monday’s meeting of his centrist Yesh Atid faction, vowed to continue fighting in the streets in what he called “a fight for our home”.

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Last Wednesday, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a Netanyahu ally, unveiled what Levin called the first phase of the government’s deep reform plan, which includes creating an override mechanism for the Knesset to restore invalid laws from the court, establishing political control over judicial appointments, removing that of the court. the power to discuss the “reasonableness” of government decisions and to limit the independence of government legal advisers.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a factional meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 9, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

With a majority of 64 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers in their religious-right coalition, Netanyahu, Justice Minister Levin and their coalition partners have vowed to press ahead with their reform agenda despite a barrage of criticism from the prosecutor. general, former Supreme Court judges and opposition politicians, all of whom warn that the changes will damage democracy and endanger civil liberties.

“If you continue on the path you are on, you will be responsible for civil war in Israeli society,” Gantz said in comments to the government. The former defense minister added that the judicial renewal plan “will have a fatal impact on national security – both in terms of the stability of citizens in all segments of society, and the ability of the Supreme Court of Justice and the legal system for it to be our legal Iron Dome before the world.”

Alluding to concerns that Netanyahu’s desire to end his ongoing corruption trial has pushed his Likud party to pursue judicial reform, Gantz warned that such moves would leave the country “democratically stymied.” .

“If you believe you have been wronged legally, do not correct it by being unfair to the State of Israel and Israeli society. This is an unpatriotic and anti-Zionist act,” he added in a personal appeal to Netanyahu.

Israelis protest against the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Habima Square in Tel Aviv, on January 7, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Gantz said the “liberal, state-loving right” should be “the first to come out and protest” for what they believe in – “not against Netanyahu or against the government, but against the breakdown of democracy and this rampant , destructive action.”

Responding to Gantz, Netanyahu accused his former political partner of “sowing the seeds of disaster” by calling the public to the streets, failing to condemn protesters who compare Netanyahu’s government to Nazis.

“I heard what MK Gantz said and I must say I am shocked,” Netanyahu was seen saying during the factional meeting, in a video released by a Likud spokesman. He added that Gantz’s statements were “a call for rebellion from the Knesset.”

A large Saturday evening protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s platform on justice reform included placards comparing the government and the justice minister to Nazis, behavior that Gantz has yet to publicly condemn.

“When someone does not condemn the comparison of the minister of justice to a Nazi and the government of Israel to the Third Reich, it is he who sows the seeds of disaster. I call on you, Benny Gantz, to return it immediately,” Netanyahu added.

Banners blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) for political violence and comparing Justice Minister Yariv Levin (C) and their government to Nazis at a political protest in Tel Aviv, January 7, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu ally Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also pushed back against opposition politicians who accused his camp of fomenting civil war, claiming the government’s judicial reform plan aims to “strengthen Israeli democracy” and restore confidence in the public in the courts.

Speaking minutes after Gantz warned that the judicial reform plan presented last week would push Israeli society to the brink, Smotrich said “it is doubly sad when harsh words and threats of civil war come from the highest levels.”

Speaking at the start of a meeting of the faction of his far-right party, Religious Zionism, Smotrich demanded that “everyone immediately stop the inciting and inciting discussion”.

“From time immemorial, then and now, the nationalist camp has said no to civil war,” he added.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset’s influential Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, is a key figure in pushing the Levin-led coalition’s judicial reform plan.

Reaffirming past statements on the issue, Lapid said the justice reform package “is extreme regime change, it’s canceling the Declaration of Independence, it’s severing Israel from the family of liberal nations.”

“A country in which the government can do everything is not a democracy,” added the opposition leader. “A government that, overnight, abolishes all checks and balances that exist on power is not a democracy.”

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting in the Knesset on January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attacking the government’s plan to give politicians ultimate control over appointments to the bench, National Unity MP Gideon Sa’ar, the former justice minister, warned that “ulterior motives and political considerations” will now determine the identity of the judges of Israel.

“Every judge will know who he owes and every party that comes before him will also know who owes the debt,” he added. “This is a surefire way to corrupt our judicial system.”

As justice minister, Sa’ar increased the panel’s transparency by making the Judicial Selection Commission’s hearings public. Previously, as Likud MK, he balanced the power of appointment between politicians and professional representatives.

Sa’ar also said that a nullification clause that allows the Knesset to re-enact laws struck down by the Supreme Court – the centerpiece of the government’s judicial reform plan – must require a “special majority”, although he did not specify a number specific.

Taking a similar line to his party leader Gantz, whose proposal to create a comprehensive judicial reform package was rejected by the government, Sa’ar added that “it is certainly possible to fix relations between the powers ” through the Foundation. Law supporting the judiciary.

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