Israeli protests continue after Netanyahu rejects president’s judicial reform compromise

March 17, 2023 by Pesach Benson
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Israel’s political crisis over controversial judicial reforms deepened after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a compromise proposal put forward by President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday evening.

Protesters on Thursday blocked roads in Tel Aviv, painted a red line down a Jerusalem street leading to the Supreme Court building, and took to boats to disrupt traffic at the Port of Haifa. Doctors also demonstrated outside hospitals in Haifa and Ashdod while marches took place in other Israeli cities.

Israelis protesting the government’s judicial overhaul block a Tel Aviv highway on March 16, 2023. Photo by Elyashiv Rakovski/TPS

The issue followed Netanyahu to Berlin, where hundreds of protesters waved signs by the Brandenburg Gate and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz raised his concerns.

Opponents of the judicial overhaul vowed to escalate their protests after Netanyahu dismissed Herzog’s framework, which was presented in a prime-time television address.

“Anyone who thinks that a real civil war, of human life, is a line that we will not reach has no idea,” Herzog said. “The abyss is within touching distance.”

But before departing for Germany on Wednesday night, Netanyahu dismissed the proposal.

“Unfortunately, the things the president presented were not agreed to by the coalition representatives,” Netanyahu said. “And central elements of the proposal he offered just perpetuate the current situation and don’t bring the necessary balance between the branches. That is the unfortunate truth.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid thanked Herzog for the proposals but declined to comment further until he had a chance to study them more closely.

The President’s Proposals

The governing coalition’s judicial reforms are deeply controversial. Legislation advancing through the Knesset would primarily alter the way judges are appointed and removed, give the Knesset the ability to override certain High Court rulings, restrict the ability of judges to apply standards of “reasonableness,” and change the way legal advisors are appointed to government ministries.

Supporters of the legal overhaul say they want to end years of judicial overreach while opponents describe the proposals as anti-democratic.

The president’s framework for legal reforms includes removing the governing coalition’s automatic majority from the judicial selection committee while abolishing the Supreme Court’s veto power over government appointments.

Herzog’s plan would also make it harder for the Supreme Court to strike down laws, requiring two-thirds of an 11-justice panel to do so. Israel’s Supreme Court has 15 justices. The president’s framework contained no provision for the Knesset to override a Supreme Court ruling.

The president’s plan also gives more constitutional weight to Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws while restricting the Supreme Court’s ability to apply the legal test of “reasonableness.”

It also leaves intact the status of legal advisers currently working in government ministries but creates a mechanism for ministers to remove legal advisers if there are frequent and substantive disagreements. Currently, legal advisers are technically professional civil servants. The governing coalition wants to make the legal advisers political appointees.

Herzog previously offered to mediate between the government and the opposition, but Lapid vowed not to negotiate until the coalition first pauses its legislative blitz. Leaders of the governing coalition say they are willing to negotiate but without preconditions.

The government is pushing to complete the passage of all the legislation ahead of the upcoming Passover recess.

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