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Israelis warned powder keg may explode

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TEL AVIV: Israeli President Isaac Herzog has used a rare prime-time speech to warn the country is on the verge of ‘‘constitutional and social collapse’’ over a government plan to reduce the power of the judiciary.

Herzog, known more as reliably dull than alarmist, was speaking of a widespread concern that the change planned by the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is so radical it jeopardises the future of the country’s democracy, its appeal to foreign investors and ties to its strongest allies.

‘‘The absence of dialogue is tearing us apart from within, and I’m telling you loud and clear: This powder keg is about to explode,’’ Herzog told the nation. ‘‘This is an emergency.’’

Tens of thousands have demonstrated weekly against the government’s plans while scores of economists, business leaders, retired security chiefs and legal scholars have gone on record in opposition.

Shortly after Herzog spoke , calling for compromise and dialogue, the heads of the country’s top banks – Hapoalim, Discount, Leumi and Mizrahi – expressed support for his approach.

Netanyahu and his aides want to increase the government’s role in appointing judges and greatly limit the Supreme Court’s authority to strike down legislation. While they aren’t alone in saying that the high court has too much power, many say the planned remedy is far worse than the problem. Critics say the measures would weaken the Supreme Court, limit judicial oversight and grant more power to politicians. Protesters say that would undermine democracy.

‘‘We [are] … here in order to demonstrate against the government of Israel under Netanyahu, which in our belief is against democracy and are going to do anything they can in order to take out democracy of Israel,’’ said Illan Bendori, 70, at a protest in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu has dismissed the protests as a refusal by leftist opponents to accept the results of last November’s election, which produced one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history.

All of this is happening as violence among Israelis and Palestinians has increased in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The security cabinet announced plans late on Sunday (yesterday AEST) for the legalisation of nine settlement outposts and an increased police presence in the occupied areas as an answer to Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians there.

The overlapping crises have led to a level of discourse that itself threatens internal violence among Jews. A coalition MP blamed the Supreme Court chief justice for the death of three people in an attack by a Palestinian in Jerusalem. Earlier, a retired combat pilot wrote in a Facebook post that if a prime minister assumed dictatorial powers, ‘‘he deserves to die’’.

President Joe Biden told a New York Times columnist over the weekend that, like US democracy, Israel’s was based on institutional checks and balances, notably through an independent judiciary.


Herzog, whose role is one of symbolic leadership rather than policy, noted the need to work together amid the rising violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank. He laid out a framework to start talks towards a compromise. Former PM Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition, called Herzog’s negotiating framework reasonable, noting its stipulation that talks be conditioned on immediate suspension of the legislative process. ‘‘We are fighting for the values of the Declaration of Independence, and for the very idea of living here together as one people,’’ Lapid said in a statement.

Israel has only one legislative body and in such a parliamentary system, the executive can exert enormous control, leaving only the courts to rein in perceived abuses of minorities and human rights.

Israel’s N12 news released a poll on Saturday revealing that 62 per cent of Israelis want the proposed judicial plans to be either paused or halted all together.

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Article source: The Age (Bloomberg, Reuters) | Gwen Ackerman | 14.2.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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