Lapid proposes 60-day freeze on legislation

Levin and Rothman: No connection to Israel's judicial reforms, which will continue on schedule.

 Israeli Prime Minister and Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on December 22, 2022.  (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Israeli Prime Minister and Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on December 22, 2022.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

The process to form a presidential committee on the government’s judicial reforms should begin with a 60-day freeze of all legislative procedures connected to it, opposition leader and former prime minister MK Yair Lapid said Wednesday.

“Sixty days is the blink of an eye in the life of a democracy,” Lapid said in a speech at the Knesset in which he laid out what he called was a “proper process” for how such a committee would work.

“We waited 74 years. Nothing will happen if it takes another few weeks, during which we will save the nation of Israel from a terrible crisis.”

The coalition would begin by freezing all legislation connected to the reform for 60 days. In the meantime, Herzog would hold talks that include legal experts, including those who supported the reform and those who didn’t, as well as economic and defense experts, to understand its broader implications. The product of all of this will be a position paper on the reform.

Next, the president would host High Court justices to give their opinion on the paper, then the coalition and then the opposition. Based on this, the president would edit the position paper and then publish a final version. This would be the draft that the coalition and opposition would then begin to negotiate over in joint meetings, Lapid said.

 Thousands wave the Israeli flag as they protest against the judicial overhaul, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem. February 13, 2023. (credit: Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90) Thousands wave the Israeli flag as they protest against the judicial overhaul, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem. February 13, 2023. (credit: Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Rothman: Lapid is "living in a dream world"

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Chairman Simcha Rothman ridiculed Lapid’s proposal, telling KAN the opposition leader was “living in a dream world.”

“Lapid who is busy with a BDS campaign against the country proved today that he is not interested in dialogue.”

Simcha Rothman

“Lapid who is busy with a BDS campaign against the country proved today that he is not interested in dialogue,” Rothman added in an interview with Channel 14.

“The fight he is advancing is not for human rights but rather stems from Lapid’s frustration over the loss of government. I call on the responsible members of the opposition to show leadership and agree to the president’s call and begin dialogue even before the first reading and without preconditions,” Rothman said.

National Unity chairman and former defense minister Gantz refused.

“The question here is not who is overcoming whom, nor of two days versus two months. The legislative process must be stopped. Stop. Let’s sit down and talk seriously,” he wrote on Facebook.

KAN later reported that National Unity was critical of Lapid, who it argued was preventing any chance for compromise. According to the report, Gantz thought Lapid’s demand to wait 60 days had no chance and would give the Likud the ability to blame the opposition for the failure in talks. National Unity denied the report, calling it “nonsense.”

Protest organizations reiterated their call on Lapid and Gantz not to enter talks until all of the laws were scrapped.

No advancement was reported in talks between the government and coalition and the opposition, despite the coalition’s decision to delay the preliminary votes in the Knesset plenum on a number of controversial bills.

Herzog regarded the controversy and debate surrounding the government’s proposed judicial reforms during the opening plenary session of the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit on Wednesday, calling for both sides to reach a compromise.

“I think the same way you see the innovative spirit of the State of Israel, you also see it in this debate and I am very proud of my brothers and sisters ‒ the Israelis taking an active role in the debate from all of its sides. All I can say about myself is that I’m doing my best to direct this debate into a constructive dialogue that will lead to an agreed-upon result that will strengthen, and foster, and protect Israeli democracy,” he said.

Herzog’s address at the OurCrowd Summit is particularly relevant, as one of the primary criticisms of the proposed legal reform is that weakening the system of checks and balances will frighten foreign investors.

This fear has proven to hold water, as official reports from several global finance organizations such as JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs have acknowledged the potential risk that the reform poses toward both foreign direct investment and the nation’s sovereign credit score.

“A consistent tendency to weaken key and essential institutions or the system of checks and balances is liable to increase the risk of a reduction of Israel’s credit rating,” stated a representative of S&P in January.

Coalition whip Likud MK Ofir Katz announced that the coalition decided to postpone the preliminary vote on the controversial “Deri Law.”

It later became apparent that the “Override Law” and “Saada Law” had been taken off the agenda as well, contrary to the agenda that was published a few hours earlier.

The Override Law would give the Knesset the power to make laws immune to judicial review, while the Sa’ada Law, authored by Likud MK Moshe Sa’ada, proposes to remove the unit that investigates complaints against police officers from the State’s Attorney’s Office and instead subjugate it directly to the Justice Minister.

Katz’s announcement indicated that this was a goodwill gesture meant to kick-start negotiations with the opposition.

“Due to the honorable president’s request and to enable continued dialogue with an open heart and willing soul, I decided after consulting with [Shas] MK Moshe Arbel to postpone until next week the vote on [the amendment to] the Basic Law: The Government, which wishes to prevent judicial review over ministerial appointments that were approved by the Knesset. This postponement will not affect the continuation of the judicial reform,” Katz said.

Lapid marked Katz’s announcement as a victory. However, it quickly became clear that each side was trying to reap political gain from a move that in reality would not lead to negotiations over the judicial reform.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Rothman announced shortly after Lapid’s response that the decisions regarding the plenum’s votes were made by “private MKs who initiated those bills” and did not affect the judicial reform, which they said will continue as planned.

Katz himself later clarified that there would indeed be no change to the pace of judicial reform legislation, and indicated that there was no real opening for dialogue.

"The reform's processes are continuing as usual. I said today in interviews I gave and am repeating – this reform is necessary and it will pass. The only framework of dialogue that the Left will agree to is heading to an election and canceling the Right's power. We will continue to advance the reform, the Constitution Committee will continue to meet as planned on Sunday, and on Monday the [plenum] vote on the law that was approved will be held."

Ofir Katz

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said while it supported any delay of these “mad” laws, the current delay was a “deception” that in reality did not stop the “core issues” of the legal reform.

Radio Kol Chai’s Avi Ravina later quoted a “senior member of the coalition” who said that the real reason that the “Deri Law” was taken off the plenum schedule was that the coalition was not sure whether the Religious Zionist Party’s seven MKs vote attend the vote due to their preoccupation with the evacuation of an olive grove in the West Bank on Wednesday. The law requires a minimum of 61 votes since it is an amendment to a Basic Law, and without RZP, the coalition would not have sufficient votes.

It also became clear later that the freeze of the Override Law had an alternative reason – Labor MK Gilad Kariv had appealed to the Knesset’s legal adviser on what the protocol was regarding private laws and committee laws on the same subject that were being advanced simultaneously. According to Kariv, the bill was frozen until the legal adviser gave her answer.