Netanyahu in 2012: ‘Rights cannot be protected without strong, independent courts’
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new hardline government pursue sweeping changes to the judiciary that would remove almost all of the Supreme Court’s tools for government oversight, a clip from more than 10 years ago of him giving a stirring defense of a “strong and independent”. legal system is circulating widely on social media.
The edited clip, dated February 28, 2012, shows Netanyahu hailing an independent judiciary as one of the foundations of democracy in a speech at a handover ceremony for Supreme Court chief justices held at the President’s residence in Jerusalem.
Posted on social media on Friday, the Jewish clip had been viewed over 140,000 times by midday on Saturday.
“I believe that a strong and independent judiciary allows for the existence of all other institutions in a democracy,” Netanyahu said in his speech.
“I ask you to show me a dictatorship, an undemocratic society, where there is a strong independent judicial system. There is no such thing,” Netanyahu said.
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“In countries without a strong and independent judicial system, rights cannot be protected,” he said.
מסקימים אם מה שנתניהו בעשמו (!) אומר?
רטוווטו קודי שכעשים יידעו קחי הוא מת לבוא להפגנה pic.twitter.com/gal4CCHj1v
— ???? תומר אביטל (@TomerAvital1) January 13, 2023
“In fact, the difference between countries where rights are only on paper and those where there are actual rights – that difference is a strong and independent court,” he said.
Netanyahu went on to detail actions he said he had taken to protect the independence of the judicial system.
“This is why I am doing and will continue to do everything I can to protect the judicial system [so that it remains] strong and independent”, he said.
Then-new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Asher Grunis (2L) then-President Shimon Peres (C), outgoing then-President Dorit Beinisch and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) pose for a photo with other judges at the office of the President Residence in Jerusalem on February 28, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The Prime Minister said that while there had been attempts to weaken the independence of the judiciary – some of them the same or similar to the changes he is now promoting – he had made sure they were not passed.
“In the past few months alone, I have dropped every law that threatened to undermine the system’s independence – from trying to hold hearings for judges in the Knesset, through limiting court petitions, to changing the composition of the election commission of judges,” Netanyahu said.
“I will continue to operate in this way. “Every time a bill comes to my desk that could undermine the independence of the Israeli courts, we will take it off the table,” Netanyahu said.
Social media users joked that Netanyahu’s 2012 speech could be used as the headline for Saturday night’s mass protest in Tel Aviv, where demonstrators plan to take to the streets for a second weekend in a row to warn against the government’s plans.
Protesters rally against the government’s justice reform plan in Habima Square in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
The controversial overhaul announced by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, backed by Netanyahu, will give the government full control over the appointment of judges, including the Supreme Court, and will severely limit the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down legislation and will enable the Knesset to re-law that the court succeeds in canceling with a majority of only 61 MKs.
Critics of the plans, which include current and former senior judicial and legal officials as well as Netanyahu’s political rivals, say the review would jeopardize basic civil and minority rights by severely limiting the high court’s authority to overturned laws and government decisions. Supporters of the changes argue that the courts have taken on excessive powers and issued decisions that contradict the will of the voters.
Chief Justice Esther Hayut warned on Thursday that passing the review would deal a “fatal blow” to the country’s democratic character.
In her remarks, Hayut said Levin’s planned changes amounted to an “unrestricted attack on the justice system.”
The proposals would “override the judiciary,” she said, and change Israel’s democratic identity “beyond recognition.”
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut speaks at a conference in Haifa on January 12, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)
Hay’s position has been echoed by former senior legal officials. Earlier Thursday, in an unprecedented move, nearly all attorneys general and state prosecutors since 1975 signed a letter condemning the plan, saying it “threatens to destroy the justice system.”
In a video statement response on Friday, Netanyahu argued that the right wing “discussed this before the election and we received a clear mandate from the public for this”.
Coalition officials say they aim to pass the entire legislative package into law by the end of the current Knesset session at the end of March.
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