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Israel’s president condemns Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul

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Israeli President Isaac Herzog criticised a proposal to overhaul Israel’s justice system as wrong and destructive in a speech on Thursday evening, telling coalition MPs that the current legislation “must pass from this earth”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s plan to weaken the country’s top court has divided the country and drawn hundreds of thousands to rallies opposing the move. Demonstrators filled the streets of Tel Aviv on Thursday for the 10th straight week to protest the judicial overhaul, which opponents say would deal a fatal blow to Israel’s democratic character.

Protesters also blocked roads around Ben Gurion International Airport and clashed with police as part of what organisers called “a national day of resistance.” At least 30 demonstrators were detained during protests across the country, according to Israeli police.

In his address, Mr Herzog called for both sides — Mr Netanyahu’s coalition and opponents of the overhaul in Israel’s parliament and in the streets — to reach a compromise over the judicial changes.

“We are at the point of no return. It is a moment of ‘to be or not to be’,” Mr Herzog said. “If you choose to continue on the path you have followed so far — this chaos will be on your watch. History will judge you. Take responsibility, now.”

Mr Netanyahu praised Mr Herzog’s efforts to reach “wide understandings” so as to end the controversy.

As currently proposed, the changes would allow a simple majority of 61 members of Israel’s parliament, or Knesset, to override Supreme Court decisions. They would also hand the ruling coalition effective control of the committee that appoints judges.

Supporters of the overhaul, like Mr Netanyahu and his coalition allies, say left-wing activist judges have too much power and tie the hands of popularly elected governments. Mr Netanyahu says he received a clear mandate from the public to reshape the justice system during the last election, in which his supporters campaigned on the issue.

Critics say the changes would hand the ruling coalition unchecked power. Israel has a limited system of checks and balances, with its top court playing the leading role in checking the power of the legislative and executive branch.

The judicial proposals have also sparked sharp opposition from Israel’s business community, especially its hi-tech sector. Top economists and ratings firms have said changes would weaken the independence of Israel’s courts and could hurt its economy.

Israel’s president plays a largely ceremonial role as a symbol of national unity. But Mr Herzog has been involved in intensive shuttle diplomacy in recent days in an attempt to reach a compromise over the judicial reform.

A group of legal experts has met top coalition MPs, sometimes at Mr Herzog’s official residence, as part of an attempt to find a reform package acceptable to all sides, said Yedidia Stern, one of the participants, from the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem-based think tank.

“There is agreement on most issues. True, not on everything, but on the absolute majority,” Mr Herzog said on Thursday. “We cannot destroy ourselves over a small gap.”

But many liberal Israelis who oppose the changes are deeply afraid of what Mr Netanyahu’s ultraorthodox and nationalist coalition partners have committed to do once the courts can be circumvented, said Giora Eiland, a former general involved in efforts to broker a compromise.

“The opponents don’t just have a problem with the reforms, but with the agenda the government will use them to advance,” said Mr Eiland, who is pessimistic over the possibility of a deal. “So the gap is enormous: what kind of country will this be?”

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Article source: The Australian / Wall Street Journal | Aaron Boxerman | March 10, 2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000