President Isaac Herzog began his much-anticipated address to the nation on Wednesday evening – to present his plan for judicial-reform compromise – by mentioning the revelation earlier in the day about a terrorist infiltration from Lebanon.
“The serious security incident that became public a few hours ago is clear proof that our enemies well recognize the severing of Israeli unity, and are acting accordingly,” he said.
“Nor is this the only threat,” he added, as a segue to discussing the dangers of internecine strife.
“The [events of] last few weeks are tearing us apart,” he continued. “They are harming Israel’s economy, security, political ties and especially Israeli cohesion. Shabbat meals have become a battlefield; friends and neighbors have become rivals. The conflicts are getting worse. Worry, fear and anxiety are more tangible than ever.”
Reaction to Herzog's speech
Fair enough. Yet he didn’t go on to reprimand the “resistance” for its protests and appeals to foreign governments to delegitimize the state’s democratically elected officials.
No, he simply bemoaned the societal schism and warned against the possibility of an actual civil war that includes casualties.
“The abyss is within reach,” he admonished. “But I truly believe with all my heart that we’re also facing a great, historic opportunity for a balanced, wise and agreed-upon constitutional arrangement of the branches of government.”
Acknowledging that total consensus cannot be achieved, he asserted that “broad agreement on basic constitutional issues is the right thing at this critical moment [because] Israeli democracy is the soul of our nation and we must guard it vigilantly. Its solid foundations, which are in line with Jewish values, bind us all.”
He then pointed to two of these values: justice and peace. It’s what he said most Israelis seek and what he’s been pursuing for the past several weeks.
“The framework I’m presenting today is a happy medium, taking into account the perceptions, beliefs, concerns and worries in a proper, decent, balanced and constructive manner. It reflects… the greatest common denominator,” he declared, adding, “If only one side wins, the State of Israel will lose. In this framework, there is no winning side and no losing side. It is all about the victory of the citizens of Israel.”
ALL WELL and good. The trouble is that he spoke for a full 12 minutes in this vein without providing even an outline of the plan. Instead, he directed viewers to a website titled “The People’s Framework.”
Seriously? After all the pre-speech hype and subsequent lengthy monologue, he told the public to look online for information?
It was an odd way to unveil his highly touted blueprint for an accord between the coalition and opposition on the issue of judicial reform. Indeed, he could have published the link to the document in question and spared everyone the pontification.
After all, Israelis across the spectrum are fully aware of the rift he described; they tuned in to hear his proposal for mending it, or at least for enabling dialogue.
In the end, he left them no choice but to read it on the Internet. Too bad for those whose ability to do so is limited for one reason or another.
Politicians and journalists who were privy to the site immediately prior to, or during Herzog’s performance scrambled to peruse it ahead of time. Among these was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had postponed an official trip to Germany by several hours to review it with members of his coalition.
He issued his response on the tarmac of Ben-Gurion Airport. Before boarding his flight to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as part of his campaign to enlist European help in countering the regime in Tehran, he said: “I think that any attempt to reach an agreement and dialogue is certainly appropriate, and therefore coalition representatives have spoken with the president time and time again, while the opposition hasn’t been willing to engage in even a single discussion. Unfortunately, the issues presented by the president were not agreed upon by representatives of the coalition.”
Furthermore, he emphasized, “key clauses in his plan only perpetuate the current situation, and don’t create the necessary balance among the branches [of Israel’s government]. This is the sad truth.”
TALK ABOUT understatement. The “People’s Framework” slants so far in the opposition’s favor that it makes a mockery of the whole endeavor. For one thing, it maintains the very imbalance in the Judicial Selection Committee that the reforms aim to alter. For another, it leaves intact the unprecedented power of the attorney general over the government.
But don’t take my word for it. Channel 12’s legal reporter/analyst Guy Peleg – a heavy-duty Netanyahu detractor who makes no bones about his loathing for the Right – made this very assessment.
What Herzog has done here, he said breathlessly, is prevent the government from implementing the main changes it desires, with a few minor tweaks. Joining his sigh of relief was the anti-reform Israel Democracy Institute, which stated that if Herzog’s framework “were to be adopted in its entirety as a package, we would support it because it safeguards our democracy and bolsters key elements of our constitutional foundations.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid didn’t go that far; he wouldn’t dare antagonize the protest movement that’s been calling the shots, which are fired at every aspect of the right-wing government, using judicial reform as an excuse. Thus, he tweeted something vague about the need to “approach the president’s outline with respect for its standing, the seriousness with which it was written and the values that underlie it.”
He then took very specific aim at the coalition, whose “response to the outline,” he spewed, “is contempt for the institution of the presidency, utter disdain for the gravity of the moment and erasure of the notion that we are one nation.”
In a show of particular chutzpah – for someone who refused to consider any compromise, such as that put forth last week by jurist Yuval Elbashan, businessman Giora Yaron, former national security adviser Giora Eiland and former justice minister Daniel Friedmann – he lied his way up to the phony moral high ground.
“As long as the coalition gallops ahead with its extreme and predatory legislation,” he pronounced, “the danger to Israeli democracy has not passed and we will continue to fight for a Jewish, democratic, liberal and strong Israel.”
In other words, the mass hate-fests must and will carry on as scheduled. Now that Herzog has proven he hasn’t abandoned his Labor Party origins, however, the protesters might give him a break.
Maybe today they’ll be less inclined to gather outside his residence, hurling epithets and cautioning that he’d better stop suggesting that the government has legitimate concerns; or else his wife will become their target for verbal abuse – like Sara Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, the external enemies Herzog cited – those encouraged by splits in the country’s seams – are busy plotting deadly attacks on Israelis of all stripes. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take an especially bloody one to stitch the nation together again.