Here's how Israel can work toward a national consensus - editorial

Is there a world in which the government shared its plans before moving ahead?

 More than 100,000 protestors fill Habima Square in Tel Aviv in protest against Netanyahu's government reforms. (photo credit: MAARIV)
More than 100,000 protestors fill Habima Square in Tel Aviv in protest against Netanyahu's government reforms.
(photo credit: MAARIV)

There’s been a lot of debate and accusations this week about whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party were clear on their plan to overhaul the judiciary and whether voters knew what their intentions were before the November 1 election.

“No one needs to be surprised,” Netanyahu said. “What we said before the election we’re doing – and will do – after the election.”

Perhaps Netanyahu, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and the Likud could have better explained the plan during the election campaign. Perhaps other parties should have raised a red flag then so that the electorate could have been better informed. But this is a moot point now, given that today, the issue is clearly tearing the nation apart.

In addition to the public protests culminating in the massive rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, top jurists have warned that the planned reform could be a devastating blow to the country’s robust democracy, rule of law and the separation of powers. Among those who have spoken out vigorously against it are Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, American legal expert Prof. Alan Dershowitz and former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein, who in a speech at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday called the plan a “pogrom.”

“They are trying to change the judicial system as we have known it for 75 years and turn it into something unfamiliar and unknown, in a hurried manner, without serious consideration,” Weinstein claimed. “I oppose all of it.”

 Thousands of Israelis protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, on haBima square in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2023.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Thousands of Israelis protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, on haBima square in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2023. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The judicial reforms presented by Levin last week would, inter alia, cut the wings of the High Court and enable the Knesset to re-enact legislation that the court has struck down. They would also give the coalition control over appointing judges and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers.

Supporters of the plan say these changes are required to rein in a judiciary that is too powerful, while critics charge that it would severely harm its ability to check on the legislative and executive branches.

Can they emerge stronger than before?

President Isaac Herzog said on Sunday that he was working with all his might to find “the right way to emerge from this difficult crisis.” Herzog argued that his office is perhaps the only place today that enjoys the confidence of all parties and is capable of hosting discussions on the subject in a manner accepted by all.

“Over the past week, I have been working full time, by every means, making non-stop efforts with the relevant parties, with the aim of creating wide-reaching, attentive and respectful discussion and dialogue, which I hope will yield results,” he said. “I humbly admit that I am not certain of this endeavor’s success. There is goodwill from the various parties with whom the responsibility lies, but there is still a long way to go and significant gaps remain. The principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Jewish and democratic contours of our state are my guiding lights, and I will not allow them to be harmed.”

National Unity leader Benny Gantz is to be commended for seeking to find a compromise between the government and the opposition. 

“I am again calling for the establishment of working teams that will put before the Knesset a proper and broad reform, including additional layers on top of the existing ones,” Gantz said on Monday.

His warning should also be heeded: “If there is no profound change that expresses broad agreement and the preservation of Israel as a substantial democracy with separation of powers and judicial review, there will be no agreements at all.”

Here’s what could happen – if it’s not happening already – to resolve the crisis: The president should continue holding a dialogue with all sides in an attempt to reach consensus on an acceptable legal reform plan. The prime minister and justice minister should be open to discussing the issue with the opposition. And the opposition should welcome such an opportunity.

In order for this to be successful, perhaps the government should appoint a well-respected personality to mediate between the sides and come up with a judicial compromise. 

“Justice, justice you shall pursue,” Deuteronomy 16:20 entreats us. Aspiring to Solomonic wisdom and a legal reform plan acceptable to the majority of Israelis should now top the government’s agenda.