Slammed for inaction, Herzog says trying to mediate on judicial overhaul, might fail

Slammed for inaction, Herzog says trying to mediate on judicial overhaul, might fail

President Isaac Herzog said on Sunday that he has been working for several days to mediate discussions between relevant political figures on the planned controversial judicial review of the hardline government.

The announcement came after a protest outside the president’s residence in Jerusalem on Saturday evening, and after the mention of his name in a speech at a mass rally in Tel Aviv drew jeers.

“We are in the grip of a deep dispute that is tearing our nation apart,” Herzog said in a statement. “This conflict worries me deeply, as it worries many in Israel and the Diaspora.”

“Over the past week, I have been working full-time, by all means, making ongoing efforts with the relevant parties, with the aim of creating a broad, considerate and respectful discussion and dialogue which I hope will give results. he said.

Herzog described his “two critical roles” as “avoiding a historic constitutional crisis and stopping the continued division within our nation.”

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“The office of the President is perhaps the only place today that enjoys the trust of all parties and is able to host discussions on this topic in a way that is accepted by all – behind closed doors and with open doors,” Herzog added.

Protesters against the planned judicial overhaul outside the President’s residence in Jerusalem on January 14, 2023 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Herzog said he was aware that he could fail in his efforts.

“I humbly admit that I am not sure of the success of this effort. There is good will from the various parties on which the responsibility rests, but there is still a lot to do and significant gaps remain,” he said.

Herzog’s remarks came a day after a mass demonstration was held in Tel Aviv against coalition plans for sweeping changes to the judiciary and its relationship with the government, weakening the courts’ ability to rein in parliament and giving the government greater control. on the selection of judges.

Critics say the overhaul will significantly affect Israel’s democratic character, unbalance its system of checks and balances and leave minorities powerless.

In Tel Aviv, the crowd cheered Herzog during a speech by Eliad Shraga, chairman of the Movement for Quality Government.

Shraga called on Herzog to declare Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unfit to serve as prime minister.

In Jerusalem, over a thousand people protested outside the President’s residence, where they asked Herzog to “wake up”.

“Bougie, wake up, the house is on fire,” chanted the demonstrators, referring to the president by his nickname. “Bougie, Bougie, wake up, the audience is worth more.”

Herzog responded Sunday by saying that while he is focusing on his mediation efforts, he respects all those who have protested and “I respect the criticism of me.”

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

Meanwhile, opposition leader MK Yair Lapid on Sunday defended his decision not to attend the Tel Aviv rally, despite urging his party activists and the general public to be there.

He told the Ynet news site that he did so because, he said, protest organizers felt his presence would make the event too political in nature.

“Although I think it is political and it should be political,” Lapid said. “So I announced in advance that I would not come and that Yesh Atid people would come – both activists and Knesset members.”

MK Benny Gantz, head of the opposition National Unity party, attended and addressed the crowd informally.

MK National Unity leader Benny Gantz arrives at an anti-government protest in Tel Aviv on January 14, 2023. (Naomi Lanzkron/Times of Israel)

Lapid also said he agreed with former president Reuven Rivlin, who has suggested holding a public referendum on the review.

“The people are not with us [the government]because they were not told so [would happen] in these elections. They told them something completely different,” said Lapid.

“[The voters] did not go to the polls and say ‘We will vote for Israel to cease to be a democracy, for Israel to cease to be a country where freedom of expression is allowed,'” Lapid said.

Rhetoric over the planned repairs and backlash against them flared last week when opposition lawmaker Gantz accused Netanyahu of “leading to civil war” and Lapid called on his supporters to take to the streets as part of the “fight for our home.”

This prompted a lawmaker from the far-right Otzma Yehudi party, a member of the coalition, to call for Gantz and Lapid to be arrested for “treason”.

Herzog then called on politicians to “turn the temperature down” in their discussion of regulation.

Netanyahu, speaking Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting, also responded to the protests, saying he would not be swayed by “slogans” and pledging to see sweeping judicial changes passed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), chairs a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, January 15, 2023. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

He cited his victory in the Nov. 1 election as a response to those who claim the government is not acting on behalf of the Israeli people.

Netanyahu urged the opposition “not to be fooled by slogans inciting the destruction of the state and civil war” and claimed that when he led the opposition no such remarks were made against the government.

“We expect the opposition leaders to behave in the same spirit,” he said.

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