Israeli judicial reforms are 'wrong' and 'predatory' - Herzog

President Isaac Herzog condemned the judicial reforms proposed by the coalition, saying they "undermine" the state's "democratic foundations."

 OPPOSITION LEADER Yair Lapid has proposed that President Isaac Herzog set up a commission to examine the matter of judicial reform.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
OPPOSITION LEADER Yair Lapid has proposed that President Isaac Herzog set up a commission to examine the matter of judicial reform.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

President Isaac Herzog said that the judicial reform, as it was presented, is unacceptable and needed to be replaced, and that coalition and opposition factions would be responsible for any ensuing chaos if they fail to reach a broad agreement through negotiation, in a harsh speech delivered on Thursday night.

The legislation being prepared for readings in the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee “is wrong, predatory and dismantles our democratic foundations. Therefore, it must be replaced with another [set of legislation], an agreed upon outline – and immediately,” he warned.

Opposition head Yair Lapid said that “The legislation must be stopped immediately and go to the President’s Residence for in-depth, serious and agreed-upon negotiations that will lead to the correction and improvement of the judicial system and separation of powers.”

National Unity head Benny Gantz welcomed the president’s words, saying that “the time has come when all leaders must put Israel first.” He noted, however, that the “meaning of putting Israel above all, is also not giving up essential principles. There are provisions that raise a black flag – such as the desire to politicize the appointment of judges.”

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein said that there should be a cessation of legislation for a few days to see if there is a partner for negotiation on the other side of the aisle.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a meeting with representatives of the Jewish community in Rome that he welcomed all initiatives, including Herzog’s, so that they could reach an agreement as brothers and sisters.

Herzog described the current situation as a nightmare, and that the nation was being torn apart before his eyes.

"Especially in these days, in the days of division and quarrel in the State of Israel, we need to remember that we are one people with a common past and future," said Netanyahu.

Herzog described the current situation as a nightmare, that the nation was being torn apart before his eyes.

“We are at the point of no return,” Herzog warned, saying that if the coalition and opposition fail to put the state above ego and political interests, they would be pushing the country off a cliff.

“There is one choice: either a disaster or a solution,” Herzog told Israel’s leaders. “If you choose to continue on the path you have followed so far, the chaos is on your hands. History will judge you. Take responsibility – and immediately.”

 President Isaac Herzog speaks on Israel's judicial reform on February 12, 2023 (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO) President Isaac Herzog speaks on Israel's judicial reform on February 12, 2023 (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

The president said that he managed to reduce the gaps between the positions of the reform and anti-reform camps.

Such an agreement, Herzog emphasized, had to take into account Israel’s values. Among the highest of values are democracy, and independent judicial system and a separation of power, as well as human, gender and minority rights.

The president said that he has been working around the clock for ten weeks to find a solution, meeting with actors and representatives from all parties to the debate.

Herzog announced the drafting of a negotiation outline in an emergency meeting of almost 100 local government authorities that he convened. An outline of a draft attributed to the president was leaked on Tuesday, for which he received intense scrutiny and which the President’s Office quickly disowned.

“Do not believe anyone who speaks for me. When there is a presidential outline, you will hear it in my voice, and only my voice,” Herzog said on Thursday, referencing the Tuesday incident. “I accept with love any criticism, no matter how hard and painful it may be. To be clear, I’m not giving up. I will pay any price to find a solution.”

Herzog previously presented a five-point negotiation plan in mid-February. The last few days saw a series of outlines and calls for negotiation as tensions have escalated between coalition and opposition, and between police and protesters.

Country-wide protests against the judicial overhaul, part of the “Day of Disruption,” took place throughout the country on Thursday. In Tel Aviv, the marches were canceled and protesters were sent home after a terrorist attack in the Dizengoff area.

Earlier in the day, protesters blocked traffic into the departures area at Ben-Gurion Airport to hamper Netanyahu’s planned flight to Italy. Because of the protests, a helicopter arrived to take Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, to the airport directly from Jerusalem.

“We are trying to reach an understanding regarding the reform,” Netanyahu said before boarding the plane. “These efforts have been met with a blanket refusal by the opposition... their goal is to bring about the sixth elections and we will do everything to prevent that.”

Lapid responded: “On his way to a wasteful and unnecessary weekend at the expense of the state, Netanyahu cannot stop lying. The government did not agree to any attempt at negotiation and continues to push through the legislation that will turn us into a messianic, extremist and undemocratic country.”

Police at the airport were handing out tickets to protesters who were determined to violate the law; one protester was hit by a car on the expressway to Ben-Gurion Airport’s Terminal 3.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir arrived at Ben-Gurion several hours ahead of the prime minister, saying he was there to prevent anarchy. Several hours later as protests were still taking place nationwide, he, alongside Israel Police, announced the dismissal of Tel Aviv District Police Chief Amichai Eshed from his current position, moving him to be head of the police’s training division.

Although the Police was involved in the decision, it was made by Ben-Gvir as part of a round of new police appointments. Hours earlier, however, the national security minister reportedly said that he was unhappy with what he claimed was a soft response to Thursday’s protests, and that he “intended to do something about it,” indicating that the move was very likely a reaction to Eshed’s conduct.

“The TikTok clown [Ben-Gvir] fires an outstanding police officer because there is not enough blood and violence on the streets,” Lapid stated in reaction to the change.

Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff said that, “While thousands of police officers are in the field, Ben-Gvir is carrying out a political purge of their commander.”

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said that it would file an appeal immediately to the High Court to put out a temporary order preventing the move, calling it a “disgraceful act” and saying that they would “not let the police turn into Ben-Gvir’s private army.” Moments later, a forum of retired police commissioners said that they would join the movement’s appeal.

Altogether, at least 24 protesters were arrested throughout the Day of Disruption with the majority of police reports claiming a disturbance to the peace as being the cause of arrest.

According to N12, approximately 3,000 Israeli security service personnel were active on Thursday across the country in response to the protests.

Protesters attempted to block major roads throughout the country, mainly in central Israel and surrounding Tel Aviv, causing severe tensions on Israeli roads throughout the day and violent interactions between protesters and drivers.

The Ayalon Highway, one of the most major highways in central Israel, was blocked in both directions for close to two hours due to clashes between police and protesters in the street. Traffic on the highway only resumed around 4 p.m.

The maritime route to the port of Haifa was also completely blocked in the morning due to a flotilla from the organization “Sailors to Save Democracy” up and down the coast.

Hundreds of IDF reservists gathered outside the Kohelet Forum buildings in Jerusalem as part of the Brothers in Arms’ reservists protest against the judicial reforms. The forum is an Israeli right-wing think tank largely in favor of the reform.

Israel Police said that it arrested seven IDF reservists who took part in the protests after receiving a report that sandbags and other materials were blocking the entrance to the Kohelet buildings. One of those arrested was Lt.-Col. Ron Sharf, a senior officer and former member of the Sayeret Matkal General Staff Reconnaissance Unit.

In Beersheba, people gathered in protest at the Kiryat HaMemshalah government complex, demonstrating in solidarity with those in the Negev area whose towns are being destroyed.

One of the main speakers at the Beersheba rally was former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, who heavily criticized members of the government who had come out against IDF personnel threatening to strike.

“The prime minister and his delusional people call Israel’s heroes ‘traitors,’ ‘anarchists’ and ‘weaklings’... These are the names they call us,” Halutz lamented.

What Israel needs, according to him, is “immediate cessation of the legislative proceedings, a dialogue based on a broad agreement that cuts across sectors and currents, preservation of the Supreme Court and a judicial system free from any threat and adherence to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which defined equality as a keyword. We want equality for all.”