The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a softened version of the controversial judicial reform that it presented last January and that has caused one of the biggest political crises and protest movements in the seven decades of Israel’s history. The proposal, agreed on Monday night by the coalition Executive made up of Netanyahu’s Likud and the ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, consists of reducing the power of the Government to appoint Supreme Court judges (and push forward with that law in the next two weeks) and delay the approval of the rest of the legislative package to the next period of parliamentary sessions, which begins at the end of April. The initiative occurs with the local currency, the shekel, at its lowest level against the dollar (3.69) since 2019 and after a telephone conversation between Netanyahu and the president of the United States, Joe Biden.
The Supreme Court judges are now chosen by a committee of nine members: three court magistrates, two ministers, two deputies and two members of the bar association, which means that the Government and judges have to agree on the candidates. The original proposal from Netanyahu’s coalition expanded the members of the Committee to 11 and changed its composition so that the Executive would have a 7-4 majority. In the new version, the majority would be 6-5 and could only impose two magistrates per legislature, so that the next Government does not find itself with a Supreme Court completely full of judges similar to the previous one. From the third judge onwards, the decision would also have to have the yeses of at least one judge and an opposition deputy on the committee.
The bulk of the package of reform laws, which for the most part has already passed the first of three readings in the Knesset (Parliament), would already be left for the summer period of parliamentary sessions, which begins on April 30 after almost a month of inactivity for Pesach, the Jewish Passover.
The announcement comes after a telephone conversation between Biden and Netanyahu in which they discussed the reform proposal. The White House statement indicates that Biden expressed his support for a consensus agreement that is based on some “key principles”: “fundamental changes must have the greatest possible popular support”, the “authentic” systems of balance between powers institutions “reinforce democratic societies,” and “democratic values have always been, and must continue to be, hallmarks of the relationship” between the two countries. Instead, the brief note from Netanyahu’s office merely notes that Netanyahu conveyed to Biden that “Israel has been, and will continue to be, a strong and vibrant democracy” and that the (half-hour) conversation “turned on around the Iranian threat” and the recognition of Israel by more Arab countries, after doing so by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco in 2020.
“Don’t buy the twist”
After publicizing the initiative, the Government has assured that it “reaches out to anyone who sincerely cares about national unity and wishes to reach an agreement.” Opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid has already rejected the new proposal, calling it a “model for a hostile political takeover of the judicial system.” In Lapid’s opinion, the Supreme Committee would continue to be designing “to elect close people”, as the Executive planned “from day one”, he criticized on Twitter.
For her part, the Labor leader, Merav Mijaeli, insisted on the importance of “not buying the twist”, persevering in the protests and avoiding the debate with the Government around “a plan aimed at crushing Israeli democracy”. “The last thing they need right now is legitimacy,” she told national military radio. The protest movement remains strong (it brought together some 250,000 people last Saturday, the eleventh demonstration) and Netanyahu’s plan (which would reduce judicial independence) is increasingly receiving international criticism.
Last Wednesday, the president, Isaac Herzog, with the power to mediate in political crises, called for the withdrawal of the government proposal and presented an alternative (as a basis for dialogue) that excludes the most controversial and harmful laws for the separation of powers. . Netanyahu rejected it outright, while five of the six opposition parties jointly announced their acceptance.
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