Can Lapid, Herzog's panel plan save Israel amid judicial reform crisis? - editorial

With nearly everyone refusing to compromise on judicial reform in Israel, it’s clear that the only way out of this morass is a mechanism along the lines of Lapid’s plan.

 Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen next to Israeli President Isaac Herzog. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen next to Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

There is encouraging movement afoot regarding the fissure that has cracked open Israeli society in light of the coalition’s insistence on a complete overhaul of our judicial system.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid proposed a plan on Monday that, if accepted by all sides, could help dig the country out of the free-fall it finds itself in regarding the mudslinging taking place surrounding the reforms.

“I proposed to President [Isaac] Herzog that he form a presidential committee to offer a balanced and reasonable recommendation to fix and improve the judicial system and find the proper balance between the legislative and judicial branches,” Lapid announced.

“I proposed to President [Isaac] Herzog that he form a presidential committee to offer a balanced and reasonable recommendation to fix and improve the judicial system and find the proper balance between the legislative and judicial branches.”

Yair Lapid

Instead of the “wild galloping” of the current government, such a committee would be able to hear all sides, including the courts, the government, the opposition and academics, and carry out an orderly process that will come up with a better proposal than the current one, Lapid said.

At the same time, Herzog himself unveiled an ambitious multi-year plan to heal the rifts in the nation that have been further exacerbated by the judicial reform battle. He announced the initiative on Tuesday at an education conference attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ministers, MKs, mayors and teachers.

 President Isaac Herzog. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) President Isaac Herzog. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

In tandem with this initiative, Herzog intends to establish an education center at the President’s Residence that will foster a sense of belonging among the various communities of Israel, and will assist different ones to meet and learn about each other.

Coalition, opposition turn down Lapid's proposal

The coalition doused lukewarm water on Lapid’s proposal, saying that while all dialogue is good, an apolitical committee cannot replace the Knesset in deciding on the scope of the judicial reform. Netanyahu had previously rejected a proposal by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for the establishment of coalition/opposition working teams “that will put a proper and broad reform before the Knesset, including additional layers on top of the existing ones.”

Lapid also received the thumbs down from some fellow opposition members, with Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman tweeting: “Wake up! You cannot arrive at any compromise regarding judicial reform. You say that the government wants to bring us to a 100% dictatorship, so what compromise do you want – 50% dictatorship?!”

Labor leader Merav Michaeli also slammed the plan, saying, “There is no compromise with democracy and there is bargaining with a defendant. I am disturbed by the messages coming from Gantz and Lapid. This is exactly what our protesters oppose.”

Lapid responded to the criticism from the opposition by asserting that his plan was not about compromising with the government, but by taking the issue of judicial reform exclusively out of the government’s hands.

His notion of an apolitical body would “see as its duty the safeguarding of the separation of branches and the independence of the courts and the rule of law.”

Despite those predictable responses from both sides having to claim their turf, it’s clear that the only way out of this morass is a mechanism along the lines of Lapid’s plan. At this point, it appears to be the only route for both the government – insistent on bulldozing through 100% of its judicial reform – and the opposition and the ever-growing swell of protesters who have been filling the Tel Aviv streets every Saturday night – insistent on not touching the judicial branch by a hair – to begin climbing down from their high tree branches and plant their feet on the ground.

As Yaakov Katz wrote in Monday’s Post, “it is exactly for moments like this when an adult is needed to stand up and try to bring everyone to the middle and to a compromise.”

“It is exactly for moments like this when an adult is needed to stand up and try to bring everyone to the middle and to a compromise.”

Yaakov Katz

Although Netanyahu apparently still respects the law of the land – he did after all fire Shas minister Arye Deri Sunday following last week’s High Court of Justice ruling – he is not going to give up his judicial reform easily.

However, with enough pressure on him and his coalition partners – between Herzog, Lapid’s reasonable proposal and the call from the street – there’s a sliver of hope emerging that cooler heads will prevail and the country will be able to work together to find a path out of this crisis.