Smotrich’s proposal for new reforms must not be entertained - editorial

Smotrich’s hollow claims of wanting to reform the judiciary and saving Israel’s democracy thinly veil the main thrust of his extremist plan and its splash two weeks before the elections.

 Head of the National Union party MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir attend Otzma Yehudit party's election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 06, 2019.  (photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)
Head of the National Union party MK Betzalel Smotrich and attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir attend Otzma Yehudit party's election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 06, 2019.
(photo credit: GILI YAARI/FLASH90)

If the prospect of Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir being part of the next government coalition isn’t scary enough, his partner-in-extremism, Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich, is raising the stakes even higher.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Smotrich and his colleague MK Simcha Rothman unveiled proposals for far-reaching legal reforms under the banner “Law and Justice,” whose acceptance, he said, would be a precondition for his party to join any right-wing coalition following the November 1 election.

The reforms would slash the authority of the judiciary and would drastically limit the ability of the High Court to overturn Knesset laws that it deems as contravening Israel’s Basic Laws. It would also give the government control over the appointment of all judges, including High Court justices.

Another section of the reform, called “Strengthening the Principle of Separation of Powers,” includes a “French Law” that bars the investigation and indictment of an acting minister and prime minister, in matters that relate to their role in government.

On top of those draconian measures – which would undermine the independence of the judiciary and make a mockery of Smotrich’s claims that the reforms are intended to strengthen Israel’s democratic character – is the cherry-topping proposal, as brazen as it is transparent.

 MK Itamar Ben-Gvir attends a plenum session for the 73rd establishment of the Knesset,  in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 17, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MK Itamar Ben-Gvir attends a plenum session for the 73rd establishment of the Knesset, in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 17, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

That’s the section in his proposal to abolish the crime of breach of trust, which he claims enables the legal establishment to influence the political system.

Imagine the coincidence that the person whom Smotrich hopes to receive a plum ministerial post from if he becomes prime minister – no other than Benjamin Netanyahu – who is currently on trial for this offense.

Smotrich and Rothman had conflicting views on whether the reforms would affect Netanyahu’s trial.

In response to the Post's question

Smotrich said in response to a question by The Jerusalem Post’s Eliav Breuer that the law will not include Netanyahu’s personal case, and will only come into effect for trials that have not yet begun.

“We have an interest that the trial continue, because Netanyahu will be acquitted, and along the way, we will reveal the corruption in the legal system,” Smotrich said.

“We have an interest that the trial continue, because Netanyahu will be acquitted, and along the way, we will reveal the corruption in the legal system.”

Bezalel Smotrich

But Rothman stated that the law halting criminal proceedings after an offense has been abolished would not be changed – meaning those elements of Netanyahu’s indictment would be dropped.

Although Smotrich denied any coordination with Netanyahu’s Likud party, Prime Minister Yair Lapid connected the MK’s plan directly to Netanyahu, and said that the former prime minister has decided to try to “destroy the legal system and the rule of law in Israel.”

Smotrich’s plan was also skewered by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who tweeted: “The plan to politicize the justice system and block the ability to fight governmental corruption does not serve Israel’s interests.”

His National Unity Party also put the finger on Netanyahu, stating: “Smotrich and Rothman are Netanyahu’s hitmen, whose goal is to dismantle the justice system and destroy democracy.”

Smotrich’s hollow claims of wanting to reform the judiciary and saving Israel’s democracy thinly veil the main thrust of his extremist plan and its splash two weeks before the elections: to help Netanyahu escape the trial in which he’s currently been embroiled for two years, with no end in sight.

The passage of such reforms would greatly harm Israel’s democracy and its strong institutionalized checks and balances. The appointment of High Court justices would become part of coalition negotiations and involve Knesset approval; that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

With the executive branch – essentially the prime minister – controlling the legislative and judiciary branches, Israel would shift from a liberal to an authoritarian democracy. That’s not something that can be allowed to happen.

Smotrich’s proposal must not be entertained, especially when the person whom he wants to be prime minister is currently on trial. If that is not a conflict of interest, then what is?

That is what these repeated elections have been about and why they are likely to continue. As Smotrich made clear on Tuesday, this is not about establishing a stable coalition, but about changing Israel’s criminal justice system.