Facing pressure, opposition parties stress need for ‘progress’ in judicial talks

Justice Minister Levin reportedly tells ministers to seize the opportunity to change justice system ‘in such a way that it’s impossible to change back’

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Opposition leader Yair Lapid holds a press conference on the upcoming state budget, in Tel Aviv, May 16, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Opposition leader Yair Lapid holds a press conference on the upcoming state budget, in Tel Aviv, May 16, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Judicial reform compromise talks resumed Tuesday at the President’s Residence, with opposition parties closing the day’s negotiations with a statement saying the discussions are the “only possibility” for finding a solution to the political crisis.

They conditioned their continued participation on ending attempts to change the system of governance, as the justice minister reportedly urged cabinet members to push for irreversible changes to the justice system.

In a joint statement, the Yesh Atid and National Unity parties wrote that ongoing talks are “the only possibility for finding a common solution,” but stressed that “we made it clear that continuing with talks is conditional upon the possibility of making progress.”

The parties also conditioned talks on “commitment to the process inside and outside the room, and on stopping the sword of the judicial coup with a clear commitment that there is no legislation that leads to a change of the regime in Israel.”

“We are attentive to calls and know that the majority of the public prefers talking to leaving the room,” the two opposition parties added, in response to sustained pressure from other opposition parties and protest organizations to quit the discussions.

Anti-overhaul critics of the negotiations say that they provide cover for the coalition to continue pursuing legislation in the meantime, while right-wing critics say they are unnecessary because the coalition should unilaterally wield its legislative weight.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset during a debate about the soaring homicide rate on May 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was recorded telling his Likud party to not believe reports that their plan to curtail judicial power would be shelved, telling the party that the plan was “not dead.”

In addition to Netanyahu, Justice Minister Yariv Levin has continued to hold backroom conversations on the legislative agenda, while overhaul champion MK Simcha Rothman said on Tuesday that compromise talks were “meaningless,” a day after affirming that the legislation was “not dead.”

Levin told fellow ministers that their current hard-right coalition is an opportunity “not to be missed,” in that they could pass a complement of judicial changes “in such a way that it’s impossible to reverse them,” according to Channel 13.

Protest leaders released a statement on Tuesday lambasting Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, the leaders of Yesh Atid and National Unity, respectively, for continuing to engage in the talks, and urged them to quit them immediately.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a cabinet in Jerusalem on May 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Lapid and Gantz, Netanyahu does not want to and cannot reach a historic compromise that will strengthen democracy and ensure an independent judiciary,” they said, referencing the parties’ justification for staying in the discussions. “It’s a scam.”

The statement added that the Netanyahu government is “dragging us down a direct path to dictatorship” by planning legislation that will increase political power at the expense of judicial independence.

“It’s hard not to wonder what Lapid and Gantz are thinking to themselves when all the senior government officials, led by Netanyahu, explicitly say that they intend to continue turning Israel into a dictatorship, and all that has changed is the method.”

Protest leaders urged Lapid and Gantz to “tell the truth to the public, leave the talks and join us in demanding that the legislation be shelved.”

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 15, 2023. (Yonatan SIndel/Flash90)

Protesters plan to bring their demonstration to New York this weekend, with a small group of leading anti-judicial overhaul activists set to travel the city’s annual Celebrate Israel parade.

Calling themselves Democratic Israel for All, the group is a coalition between Brothers and Sisters in Arms, the high-tech protest, and 555, a pilot’s protest group.

The protesters plan to meet local Jewish communities, synagogue groups, influential industry leaders, and people deemed politically influential.

“We cannot neglect the Jewish Diaspora,” said a protest leader from Brother and Sisters in Arms, stressing that the goal is to convince American Jews that a threat to Israel is a threat to their own communities.

More than a dozen lawmakers and ministers also plan to attend the June 4 parade in New York.

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