Were the Likud's plans for judicial reform clear prior to the election? - analysis

There was no clear line of communication in expressing the Likud's plans for reforms prior to entering office.

 Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Likud faction meeting following the signing of the final coalition deals, December 28, 2022. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Likud faction meeting following the signing of the final coalition deals, December 28, 2022.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued on Sunday that besides the approximately 100,000 demonstrators on Saturday night against his government's judicial reform were over 2 million voters who knew fully well that the government's intentions were – and therefore he had the public backing to carry out the reforms.

Is this true? The short answer is, not really.

First, out of all voters, approximately 2.3 million people voted for the coalition parties. While about 2.5 million did not (including parties that didn't pass the electoral threshold). Even if the Likud's plans were laid out clearly, more voters voted against the coalition. If the number of votes constitutes public backing, the coalition does not have it.

Second, say we only count the votes for the current opposition parties and do not count those of parties that did not make it into the Knesset – with the coalition winning approximately 10% more votes. Did the Likud state its plans for judicial reform clearly?

First note that the Likud did not publish a platform on any subject, so the answer is based on campaign interviews, presentations, slogans and brochures. Some members of the party did indeed mention the concrete steps of the reform – such as Knesset speaker MK Amir Ohana on September 12 and 15, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin on October 21. Netanyahu himself, the dominant figure in the Likud's campaign, occasionally mentioned the need for general judicial reform, but did not lay out the details.

 Israeli Prime Minister and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on January 2, 2023. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Israeli Prime Minister and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on January 2, 2023. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Has Netanyahu ever presented clear platform positions?

Indeed, were a voter to look back at Netanyahu's positions over the years, he or she would get the impression that the prime minister's positions were far from Levin's and Ohana's.

Even if Levin and Ohana's positions were known during the campaign, this is far from stating that the Likud will actually carry out the reform, or any reform at all. Even some of the Likud campaign's clear-cut promises that were made by Netanyahu himself, such as providing free daycare for children aged 0-3, do not seem close to fruition.

The Religious Zionist Party was the only coalition party to present a clear plan for the legal system, called "Law and Justice," in a press conference on October 15, two weeks before the election. The plan included all of the current plan's provisions, and many more – including the cancellation of the "breach of trust" crime, for which Netanyahu is currently standing trial.

The Likud's only response after the press conference was to stress that the plan would not act retroactively on Netanyahu's behalf. The party did not endorse the plan, but neither did it oppose it. In Levin's October 21 interview, he was asked directly about the Smotrich plan – and did not answer directly, saying only that the judicial reform needed "a fundamental change," and recommending viewers to look at the law proposals he has filed over the years.

But even if we assume that voters knew what Levin's positions were, it was not until late December, some seven weeks after the election, that they learned that Levin had been chosen as Justice Minister. This was far from clear on voting day.

And even if it was clear –the coalition agreements themselves, from late December, do not specify the plans for reform. They state that reformation of the judicial system will take precedence over all other legislation, including the balance of power between the Knesset and government and the judicial system and High Court, as well as the method of judicial appointments.

 Likud MK David Amsalem at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 9, 2023 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Likud MK David Amsalem at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 9, 2023 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The agreements specifically mention an Override Clause – without stating how many MKs it will take to actually use it – and the legislation of a Basic Law: The Legislature. The current proposal does not include such a law. Instead, it proposes amendments to Basic Law: The Judiciary, as well as the Courts Law.

Furthermore, even now, as the reform is being launched, it is still not clear what it will actually include. Netanyahu, who will make the final calls, has not said anything specific other than that the reform will pass.

Finally, a bird's eye view of the Likud's campaign had it focusing mostly on the previous government's cooperation with the "Muslim Brotherhood," as well as matters of personal safety and high cost of living. Indeed, a Twitter fact-checking initiative called "Bodkim" found that throughout the entire campaign, the term "override clause" in its different usages was mentioned only twice, and the term "choosing judges" or "appointing judges" in its different usages was used only three times. In all of these cases, the tweets came from one Likud MK – May Golan. In comparison, the term "Muslim Brotherhood" and its different usages were mentioned 53 times.

The conclusion is that while some Likud voters may have had a clear picture of what Levin's views were, they did not know if he would be appointed justice minister, nor the fact that he would be able to launch the reform in its current version. The claim that the coalition's 2.3 million votes prove that the nation supports the reform is therefore quite dubious.