For long minutes during the voting on the contentious Law to Cancel the Reasonableness Standard on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat at the head of the government’s crescent-shaped row on the Knesset floor and listened while Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to his right and Justice Minister Yariv Levin to his left argued spiritedly over last-minute proposals for compromise with the opposition.
The image was a symbol of the times: Gallant, concerned about the implications of the judicial reform on the IDF, tried to convince the prime minister to compromise. Levin, the judicial reform hawk, argued the opposite – and Netanyahu was caught in the middle.
Levin prevailed. Compromise failed, and the bill passed. What were the proposals, and what can they inform us about the future of the judicial reforms?
Proposed compromise on Israeli judicial reform, why they failed, and what that means
Representatives of Netanyahu and opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz agreed fairly quickly on a watered-down version of the bill. What they differed on were additional provisions. Gantz demanded that Netanyahu declare that there would be no more one-sided legislation of bills that are part of the judicial reform, and that from here on out, only bills that enjoy broad consensus should pass.
Lapid demanded a 15-month freeze of one-sided legislation. He was willing to bring that number down to 12 – but only if Netanyahu’s commitment not to proceed with the reform was written down in the law itself.
Netanyahu demanded that the freeze be much shorter – so that if it wished, the coalition could still pass legislation in the Knesset winter term, which begins on October 15 and ends at the end of March 2024.
But then, according to a source, Levin and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir told the prime minister they would resign if a watered-down version of the bill passed. The removal of Ben-Gvir’s six seats from the coalition would have meant the government’s fall.
The talks promptly failed, and the bill passed 64-0 – with unanimous support from the coalition and an opposition boycott.
The main takeaway from these events is that the judicial reforms are alive and well.
Levin refused to change the bill because it would leave open the option that the Supreme Court might use the reasonableness standard to force him to convene the Judicial Selection Committee. Levin wants to change the makeup of the committee and give the government more power in electing judges. This was the bill that led to the previous protest climax in late March. Convening the committee, Levin reasoned, would make it harder to alter its makeup.
The bill that passed on Monday included a phrase that bars the Supreme Court from ruling as unreasonable a minister’s decision not to use his authority on a given matter. This will make it harder, and perhaps impossible, for the court to force Levin to convene the committee – and it leaves open the option of attempting to alter its makeup later on.
Following the law’s passage, Ben-Gvir said he also wanted to advance a bill that would take away the attorney-general’s authority to block a minister from carrying out something the attorney-general deemed illegal.
The Judicial Selection Committee bill and the attorney-general’s bill are two of the most contentious bills in the reform. With all the talk of compromise and agreements, the hawkish wing of the government is set on pushing onward.
The more moderate wing in the coalition, consisting of MKs from the Likud, is more likely to condition its support for any more reform legislation on it being part of a broad consensus. This will pit the Levin wing against the Gallant wing once again – and, assuming that the prime minister will not risk the fall of his government, the Levin wing could prevail once again.