Gantz to Netanyahu: Form multi-party committee to debate judicial reform

Gantz's proposal came after Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced his plan for legal reform on Wednesday evening.

If he only knew then. Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu sign their coalition agreement on April 20 in Jerusalem. (photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)
If he only knew then. Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu sign their coalition agreement on April 20 in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)

National Unity leader MK Benny Gantz called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday morning to form a committee composed of MKs from both the coalition and opposition in order to arrive form broad agreements within half a year.

"We are in a state of emergency - Netanyahu has to decide if he wants to break the rules of the game or preserve the State of Israel. We will fight the proposal that aims to turn Israel into a hollow democracy and cancel the values of the Declaration of Independence," Gantz said at a conference at Reichman University.

Gantz's proposal came after Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced his plan for legal reform on Wednesday evening, which included changing the makeup of the Judicial Appointments Committee in order to give politicians the final decision; canceling the "reasonability factor," a legal concept that enables the High Court to reverse "extremely unreasonable" executive decisions; an Override Clause that will grant a 61-member Knesset majority the ability to override High Court decisions to strike down laws deemed unconstitutional; and a clause that would make ministerial legal advisors a personal appointment of the minister.

Gantz said in his speech that if the plan passed it would "change the regime in Israel."

"If in the State of Israel there will be an override clause with a majority of 61; if legal advisors will answer to the power of politicians and not of the law; if judges will be chosen by a political coalition majority and will depend on it; and if the High Court's authority to invalidate radically unreasonable conduct is abolished - the fortress will indeed fall. The red line will be crossed and Israel will become a hollow democracy," Gantz said.

 AN ULTRA-ORTHODOX man looks at a Blue and White party election campaign banner in Bnei Brak depicting Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the March 2021 election. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) AN ULTRA-ORTHODOX man looks at a Blue and White party election campaign banner in Bnei Brak depicting Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the March 2021 election. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

Levin said that his plans last night were only the first stage. According to Gantz, "We all understand very well what the second stage is - all the issues concerning Prime Minister Netanyahu, delaying or canceling his trial by replacing the Attorney General or a French law [which grants the prime minister immunity from criminal proceedings]. Step by step in a systematic plan. Add to this the intention to castrate the media, take over state education and, of course, silence the military establishment," the former defense minister said.

"I call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to make a decision: negotiation or confrontation," he said.

"An issue so fundamental to our future and existence for decades to come, deserves a broad consensus. This will legitimize the reforms, and allow the fortress to be built on a solid foundation," Gantz added.

Reform should also include a Basic Law - Gantz

In addition, Gantz said that the reform should also include a Basic Law: Legislation, which could anchor the difference between regular and basic laws. Along with this, it is possible to agree on an override clause that will be used only for extreme cases where there is a broad consensus in the legislature, and not a narrow 61-member majority, Gantz said.

"An issue so fundamental to our future and existence for decades to come, deserves a broad consensus. This will legitimize the reforms, and allow the fortress to be built on a solid foundation."

Benny Gantz

"The ball is in Netanyahu's court – either break the rules of the game - or safeguard the State of Israel," Gantz concluded.

Former chief of staff and Gantz's party member, MK Gadi Eisenkot, said later on Thursday at the same conference, "Israeli democracy is at a crossroads - the political system is taking over the legal system. Nothing is taken for granted. We have to fight for Israeli democracy."

"The legal system protects minorities, it is an iron dome for security challenges and the security system," Eisenkot says. "The fact that it [Israel's High Court] is globally recognized has great significance in our ability to wield power."

Eisenkot criticized the timing of Levin's presentation, on the eve of a High Court debate on whether or not to strike down Shas chairman Aryeh Deri's appointment as a minister.

Levin's presentation of his plan was lauded by members of the coalition, including Finance Minister and Religious Zionist Party chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich, fellow party member and Knesset Constitution Committee chairman MK Simcha Rothman, National Security Minister and Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, Communications Minister and Likud MK Shlomo Karhi, Knesset Home Committee and Likud MK Ofir Katz, and others, including from United Torah Judaism and Shas.

Notably, Netanyahu himself did not comment. Netanyahu in the past has acted in restraint regarding changes to the judicial system. However, he began to attack the judicial and law enforcement system after his indictment for bribery and three counts of fraud and breach of trust, and will likely support Levin's reforms.

Members of the opposition continued to blast the reforms on Thursday.

"The government of Israel announced a coup de etat yesterday," Yesh Atid MK and former energy minister Karin Elharrar said. "After years of bashing the High Court, they are mistaken in thinking that they can ruin the judicial system without a protest. They are wrong, the majority is refusing to stay silent. It is worried and will fight for the country's democratic character - in the Knesset, the streets, on television, everywhere. We are just getting started," Elharrar said.

Another Yesh Atid MK, former economy minister Orna Barbivay, said that "the strategic plan to kill off democracy and change Israel's form of government in order to defend corruption will not succeed. The citizens of Israel are stronger than any passing politician, and together we will not allow harm to the country's Jewish and democratic character," she said.

Likud MK Moshe Saada on Thursday evening said that the Likud should consider accepting Gantz's offer for cooperation.

Saada wrote on Twitter that "things need to be done with discourse," and that if the different judicial bodies are involved the reform will be stronger.