Ehud Barak likens compromise talks on judicial shakeup to appeasement of Nazis

Former PM shares photoshopped image comparing Herzog to Neville Chamberlain and by implication Netanyahu’s new government to Nazi Germany, later deletes post and apologizes

Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, November 5, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, November 5, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Former prime minister Ehud Barak on Friday likened President Isaac Herzog’s reported proposal to host talks aimed at forging a compromise to the government’s far-reaching proposals for overhauling the judicial system to former British premier Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement efforts vis-à-vis Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Barak shared a post that included a photoshopped image of Herzog’s head atop Chamberlain’s body. The photo was from the “peace in our time” declaration Chamberlain gave upon returning to London in September 1938 after the signing of the Munich Agreement, which gave Germany parts of Czechoslovakia in a failed bid to prevent a major conflict in Europe.

In likening Herzog to Chamberlain, Barak implicitly drew a connection between Netanyahu’s new right-religious government and Nazi Germany.

Barak later deleted the post and apologized.

“A serious error occurred in the photo choice for the tweet this morning. I’m deeply sorry and apologize to the president and anyone who was rightfully hurt by it,” he said.

Barak made the comparison a day after Channel 12 news reported that Herzog has reached out in recent days to unspecified figures on the opposing sides to float a plan for facilitating talks, beginning with a 14-day pause on legislating the judicial shakeup. During that time “unconditional” negotiations will be held at the President’s Residence by an agreed-upon team or committee

Former prime minister Ehud Barak, left, with then-Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog at a press conference organized by the Labor party in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2017. (Flash90)

“The protest won’t stop,” Barak wrote on his social media accounts.

He said that dialogue should only be held if the planned overhaul’s backers freeze their legislative push and instead advance a proposal that has broad support and will only take effect after the next elections.

“Without these conditions, this is collaboration with a D-9 [bulldozer] and Netanyahu, who according to Baharav-Miara, is acting illegally,” Barak said.

He added that if the shakeup’s proponents do not agree, Netanyahu should be immediately instructed to take a leave of absence.

There was no immediate response from Herzog, who like Barak is a former leader of the center-left Labor party. The two have longstanding ties, with Herzog having served as Barak’s cabinet secretary when the latter was prime minister between 1999 and 2001.

The proposals presented by Justice Minister Yair Levin last month would sharply restrict the High Court’s capacity to annul laws and government decisions with an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate struck down laws with a bare majority of 61; give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

Herzog’s office did not deny the television report, saying in response that the president “has been working for many weeks in an attempt to prevent a historic constitutional crisis and stop the deepening of the rift in the nation.”

“The President’s Residence today serves as a center for successful dialogue to preserve trust between the sides as a protected space amid the disagreement while safeguarding the discretion of the participants,” his office said.

It added that Herzog has held meetings in recent weeks “with all sides of the map, including think tanks and other organizations, with the purpose of establishing a dialogue mechanism that will enable an end to the crisis while adhering to the foundational principles of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state — and safeguarding the unity of the nation.”

There was no comment from Netanyahu or Levin, who is leading the judicial overhaul, though the television report cited unnamed sources close to them as saying they would not agree to stop work on the legislation but were open to dialogue.

Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with incoming Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a vote for the new Knesset speaker in the Knesset on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

On Tuesday, Channel 13 news reported on a similar mediation effort by Herzog.

According to that report, Herzog proposed forming a team of jurists from both sides to begin a negotiation process and present an outline to Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, who agreed on the condition that the push for the judicial shake-up be halted “completely and immediately.” When Herzog relayed the condition to Netanyahu and Levin, they said no and the mediation process stalled, Channel 13 reported.

Herzog and others have urged the hardline Netanyahu government to negotiate over the contours of the overhaul plan.

Last week, the president issued a plea to Israel’s leadership to “show responsibility… take the time needed for this critical discussion,” and warned that the clash over the contentious judicial plans “could consume us all.”

“The absence of dialogue is tearing us apart from within. I’m saying to you loud and clear: This powder keg is about to explode. This is an emergency.”

Herzog said that the government’s “dramatic reform, when done quickly without negotiation, rouses opposition and deep concerns among the public,” and urged the coalition to listen to Israel’s diverse communities.

The judicial overhaul plans have drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts as well as weekly mass protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals, prominent economists, businesses, academics, the vaunted Israeli tech sector and others. Earlier this month, almost all former attorneys general and state attorneys since 1975 signed a letter decrying the government’s plans and warning that they “threaten to destroy the justice system.”

Last month, Hayut gave an extraordinarily fiery speech denouncing the Netanyahu government’s plans and warned the move would deal a “fatal blow” to the country’s democratic identity.

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