President Isaac Herzog on Thursday said that his proposed judicial framework, launched in a prime-time address the night before, was a starting point for negotiations and not a finished product, after his ideas were roundly rejected by the government.
“It is important for me to say that I am obviously hearing the reactions to my proposed framework from all sides, and I accept constructive criticism with love and great respect,” Herzog said in a statement. He urged people to take the time to study the proposal, which aimed to modify the government’s plans to radically overhaul the judicial system, “in depth, to see how it represents a better alternative for Israel.”
“The ‘People’s Framework’ that I proposed is intended as a basis from which we can move on, change and specify — it’s not the end of the discussion, only its beginning,” he said.
“Everything is intended toward finding a broad agreement in Israeli society as soon as possible in order to prevent a schism within, to bring about national agreement, to calm things down and lead to dialogue,” he said. “Everything is done from a love of Israel that we see here.”
On Wednesday Herzog unveiled his “People’s Framework” proposal, urging both sides of the debate “not to destroy the country” in a power struggle over the judiciary, but rather seize the opportunity for “a formative constitutional moment.”
Shortly after Herzog published his offer, and before departing on a visit to Berlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected it.
“The things the president proposes were not agreed on by the coalition, and central elements of the proposal he offered just perpetuate the existing situation and don’t bring the necessary balance between the branches,” the prime minister said. Supporters of the plan say it is needed in order to rein in an activist High Court and bring about a better balance between the branches of government.
Other Likud Ministers were less tactful.
Transportation Minister Miri Regev of Likud said the proposal appeared to have been authored by Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut.
“This framework insults the intelligence of the public. It takes a clear side, against the nation and the sovereign,” she said.
In a joint statement Wednesday night, faction leaders in Netanyahu’s 64-seat coalition also slammed Herzog’s offer as “one-sided, biased and unacceptable.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid congratulated Herzog on his framework, and promised to consider it with “respect for his position, the seriousness with which it was written and the values on which it is based.”
The opposition National Unity party, led by Benny Gantz, by contrast said it “accepts the president’s framework as one piece” and “as a basis for legislation, instead of the existing dangerous legislative outline” that the coalition is advancing.
Widespread protests against the government’s plans were continuing across Israel on Thursday.
The government’s plan, as it stands, will allow the Knesset to override court decisions with the barest majority, and put the selection of all judges in the hands of coalition politicians. Opponents argue it will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters call it a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.
The president’s proposed framework, which was published on a new (Hebrew) website as he spoke, addresses critical aspects of the relationship between the branches of government, including giving greater constitutional heft to the Basic Laws; how judges are selected; judicial review over Knesset legislation; and the authority of government legal advisers and the attorney general. It would also enshrine some fundamental civil rights in the Basic Laws that are not explicitly protected at present.
Herzog called his plan, drafted after hundreds of hours of deliberations in recent weeks with politicians, jurists and experts from across the political spectrum, “a golden path” that offers the best chance for a broad national agreement on reform. “This framework protects each and every one of you, the citizens of Israel,” he said. “This framework protects Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
He warned that having heard passionate views on the controversy from hundreds of Israelis in recent weeks, “those who think that a real civil war, with human lives, is a border we won’t cross, have no idea.” In Israel’s 75th year, “the abyss is within touching distance,” he said. “A civil war is a red line. At any price, and by any means, I won’t let it happen.”
He said he had heard “real, deep hatred,” albeit from “a very small minority of people… I heard from people, from all sides, that, heaven forbid, the idea of blood in the streets no longer shocks them.”