Bennett: Current proposals for Israeli Judicial reforms are dangerous

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israelis knew about the judicial reforms when they voted; Yair Lapid: This is a lie

 Former prime minister Naftali Bennett adresses the Israeli parliament during a "40 signatures debate" in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament, on June 13, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Former prime minister Naftali Bennett adresses the Israeli parliament during a "40 signatures debate" in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament, on June 13, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

The full current proposed judicial reforms are dangerous and need to be fixed, former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett said Monday, weighing in for the first time on the controversial reforms led by Justice Minister Yariv Levin to strengthen the legislative and executive branch at the expense of the judiciary.

Bennett noted that he has long believed that the judicial system in Israel has assumed excessive authority and blocked any attempt at changing them, and admitted that some changes are needed.

However, the current proposal is dangerous, he said.

"It will harm the foundations of the State of Israel, its economy and its citizens and it may end up breaking the ties that bind us all together," Bennett noted.

"It will harm the foundations of the State of Israel, its economy and its citizens and it may end up breaking the ties that bind us all together."

Naftali Bennett

He urged both sides to sit together and discuss these changes in order to come to an agreement for how to fix the judicial system.

 Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he addresses his supporters at his party headquarters during Israel's general election in Jerusalem, November 2, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD) Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he addresses his supporters at his party headquarters during Israel's general election in Jerusalem, November 2, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

"To be honest, it isn't very complicated," Bennett said, "if only both parties come together with a little bit of goodwill."

Officials in the Likud said in response, "All we are doing is implementing Bennett's legacy."

Bennett served as prime minister between June 2021 and June 2022. He did not participate in the recent election and has made limited appearances in the media since leaving the prime minister's office.

Netanyahu: Israelis knew about the judicial reforms when they voted

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed during a statement to the press ahead of the Likud's weekly faction meeting on Monday afternoon that Israelis knew about the coalition's plan for reform of the judicial system when they went to the voting booths on November 1 and the government thus has a mandate from the public to carry it out.

"The reform will be launched, and like we were not deterred in the past from the attacks from the Left and the media, we will not be deterred this time," Netanyahu said.

"The scares are the same scares, the square is the same square, the NGOs are the same NGOs, only the signs change.

"The reform will be launched, and like we were not deterred in the past from the attacks from the Left and the media, we will not be deterred this time."

Benjamin Netanyahu

"There is nothing new under the money – foreign money," the prime minister said, alluding to a famous verse from Ecclesiastes, "there is nothing new under the sun."

What are the responses?

Opposition leader and previous prime minister MK Yair Lapid said earlier on Monday ahead of his Yesh Atid party meeting that the claim that the Likud had laid out its plans for the reform prior to the election was a lie.

Lapid said that the Likud had not said how "extreme the reform was going to be."

"They stuttered every time they were asked about it during the campaign. They did not tell their voters that Israel will cease to be a democracy. They did not tell their voters that they will trample the High Court irreparably. They did not tell their voters that they were going to cancel the Declaration of Independence," Lapid said.

"What they are doing now is what they are the best at: Lying and trying to confuse everyone. When they kill democracy, they call it 'safeguarding democracy,' when they trample the courts, they call it 'returning trust in the courts', and when they take apart all of the government ministries they call this 'governance,'" Lapid added.

Lapid called the government a "criminal gang that wants to escape justice," and vowed that the demonstration on Saturday evening in Tel Aviv of over 80,000 people was just the beginning.

In response to reporters' questions, Lapid said that he was going to meet President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday in order to discuss the judicial reforms.

National Unity chairman and former defense minister MK Benny Gantz at the start of his faction meeting responded to criticism of him calling for dialogue with the coalition regarding the judicial reforms.

"Our outreached hand will not sign off on changing Israel's form of government in exchange for cosmetic changes. If there is not a deep change in the reform, there will be no agreements," Ganztz said.

Gantz also addressed Netanyahu's claim that the election was the "mother of all protests" and therefore justified the reforms.

"Worried citizens are worthy of respectful treatment from the prime minister, who is still their prime minister even if most of them [the protestors against the reform] did not vote for him. Instead, they are being delegitimized, and their actions are being ridiculed," Gantz said.

Netanyahu knew the power of public opinion, the former defense minister said, since he participated in the "incitement protests" in Jerusalem's Zion Square in the weeks leading up to the assassination of former prime minister Yizhak Rabin, sent protestors to demonstrate outside the houses of the right-wing MKs in the previous coalition, and operated "activists on social media" in order to sway public opinion, Gantz added.

"Public opinion is important and influential – without public legitimacy governments crumble," Gantz said.

Labor leader and former transportation minister MK Merav Michaeli also spoke to the media ahead of her party's weekly meeting, and harshly criticized the judicial reforms.

"The Labor Party says explicitly - when facing an assault like this, we do not negotiate,"Michaeli said.

"[Crime bosses] Abergil and Alperon would also very much like to pass an override clause and to choose the judges who will hear their cases. Would you negotiate with them?"

"We do not negotiate with any defendant who wants to crush the justice system that judges him. It's as simple as that. Any discussion with Netanyahu and Levin on the details of their proposals is already a surrender to their violence. Negotiation on the details is basically agreeing to what they want, with only the question of price to be discussed," Michaeli added.

Other party leaders to speak to the press included Yisrael Beytenu MK Avigdor Liberman and Hadash-Ta'al leader MK Ayman Odeh.

Liberman cited financial data regarding 2022, during which he served as finance minister. Under his watch Israel's inflation during the last year grew only by 5.3% - third best in the world behind Japan and Switzerland, Liberman said. The housing prices also began to stabilize thanks to the previous government's ramping up construction starts and real estate marketing, he said.

He warned the new government not to ruin Israel's economy.

"We are part of a global economy. Every step we take here is being watched by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and the credit rating companies," Liberman said.

"The coalition agreements endanger Israel's economy. Instead of incentivizing labor, the government is giving negative incentives by raising the stipends for full-time yeshiva students by 50%, offering food coupons and giving the haredi community discounts on public transportation" he added, warning that this would also affect foreign investments and global financial ratings.

Odeh said ahead of his party's faction meeting that the protests on Saturday night were "very important" and that it was good that tens of thousands of people went out to protest.

"At the same time, these were demonstrations that did not try to cooperate with Arab society. In order to understand why, we need to address the elephant in the room: there is no democracy without an end to the occupation, and there is no democracy with discrimination," Odeh concluded.