The voices calling for a compromise – or even a freeze – in the sweeping judicial overhaul proposal initiated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are growing at a rate commensurate with the realization that the bill, as it stands now, is so divisive and problematic that it could cause an irreparable fracture in the country.
Leading the charge to slow the process is President Isaac Herzog, who on Sunday urged the coalition to temporarily halt its plans to strengthen political control over appointment of judges, including the Supreme Court, while weakening that body’s ability to overturn legislation or rule against the government.
Those plans have generated uproar throughout legal, political and economic spheres, and have brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets in weekly nationwide protests.
“Stop the whole process for a moment, take a deep breath, allow for dialogue, because there is a huge majority of the people who would like dialogue.”Isaac Herzog
“Stop the whole process for a moment, take a deep breath, allow for dialogue, because there is a huge majority of the people who would like dialogue,” Herzog said in a statement.
Some 50 leading businesspeople sent a letter on Sunday to Herzog and Netanyahu – not warning of damage that the reforms could cause to Israel’s economy, as many have done in recent weeks – but of divisions in the country, and calling for dialogue and compromise. Among the signatories were the CEOs or chairpersons of Big Shopping Centers Ltd, Electra, Fox, Café Café, Cinema City, Brill Shoe Industry and Aroma.
“The legal system can be fixed. Like any institution, it is not perfect, but we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater,” they wrote. “In large part, Israel’s achievements are the outcome of the fact that it’s a democratic country with a balance between the branches of government, and belief on the part of its citizens and of the world that we are a country with the rule of law. The emerging legal revolution, in the way that it is being promoted, is leading to widening divisions among the people and is liable to lead to severe harm to the economy.”
Dozens of other leading business figures have signed a letter, stating, “The emerging legal revolution is liable to lead to severe harm to the economy.”
Meanwhile, the centrist Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) – led by Prof. Yedidia Stern – launched a media campaign on Sunday under the slogan, “No to coercion and violence, yes to dialogue,” calling for Israel’s leaders to reach a compromise.
JPPI data showed that there is a real concern in Israel over outbreaks of violence and a potential civil war over the reform. However, a window had also opened for politicians and other public figures to come together and begin a process of converging toward compromise.
“The Israeli public is very concerned about civil war, and each of us is responsible to prevent it,” Stern said.
The government’s answer to all of these initiatives? No, no and no.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin responded that he would not freeze the legislative process currently in motion “for even a minute.”
On the other hand, Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionist Party) responded to calls to shrink the scope of the proposed legislation by submitting a new version of the draft amendment late Sunday night. The draft gives opposition Knesset members the ability to choose their representative for a seat on the Judicial Selection Committee.
Committee member and Labor MK Gilad Kariv, in an interview on Monday on KAN Radio, likened the move to a drop in the bucket and said that Rothman and the government were not interested in any serious discussion about the reforms.
The Israel Democracy Institute released a poll on Sunday showing that 64% of the Israeli public – a large majority these days any way you look at it – “are in favor of dialogue between the different political camps regarding the proposed legislative changes in an attempt to reach compromise.”
Given that sentiment and the increasing calls for dialogue and compromise from all facets of Israeli society, the outright rejection by Netanyahu’s coalition signifies that their lofty claims of acting for the will of the people are hollow and a flimsy facade for their real interest: taking total control of the judiciary and making Israel less democratic.