Former AG: Coalition’s bill is a ‘coup,’ would ‘crush’ judiciary and cause ‘tyranny’

Ex-Mossad chief Tamir Pardo says government plan heralds ‘end of democracy,’ says he believes Netanyahu should be ‘brought to justice’ for his efforts to ‘carry out a coup’

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an emergency conference on the government's planned judicial overhaul, at the Museum of Art in Tel Aviv, July 20, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an emergency conference on the government's planned judicial overhaul, at the Museum of Art in Tel Aviv, July 20, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit said Thursday that the coalition’s bill to cancel the judicial “reasonableness” test for governmental decisions would “crush” the Supreme Court and constitute “a full-blown regime coup.”

At an “emergency conference” held by the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv, Mandelblit said the bill’s “purpose is to crush the independence of the entire justice system,” apparently meaning it will be followed by other overhaul bills.

But even on its own, he argued, the reasonableness bill “will crush Israeli democracy’s last line of defense — the Supreme Court.”

Mandelblit said the bill “could lead to tyranny, without any balance or defense, and therefore this in itself is a full-blown regime coup.”

The second and third readings on the bill, an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary, will begin on Sunday in the Knesset plenum, and the bill is expected to be approved and passed into law on Monday or Tuesday. It would ban the Supreme Court and lower courts from using the reasonableness standard to review decisions made by the government and cabinet ministers.

Mandelblit — who was appointed by Netanyahu and once seen as his confidant before overseeing his indictment in 2019 — argued Thursday that the only thing preventing ministers from firing current Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara was the test of reasonableness.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives for a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 9, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Government ministers have butted heads with Baharav-Miara several times over the past year, most recently accusing her of being too soft on unruly anti-overhaul protesters. Some have explicitly called for her to be ousted from her position.

“According to them, the moment [the bill] passes, it will be possible to fire her and the Supreme Court won’t be able to intervene,” Mandelblit said.

Tamir Pardo, a former head of the Mossad spy agency, also voiced fears over the “reasonableness” bill on Thursday, saying it “constitutes the end of democracy, and allows the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate and summon IDF soldiers to court,” while speaking at a joint press conference with the Movement for Quality of Government and the Paratroopers for Democracy protest group.

Pardo’s remarks were in reference to a fear among overhaul critics that by shackling the country’s independent judiciary, Israel will lose legitimacy in the international arena, exposing soldiers to prosecution by global bodies such as the International Criminal Court.

Ex-Mossad director Tamir Pardo speaks at the Herzliya Conference, on May 22, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The bill, Pardo said, “endangers IDF soldiers” and if it passes, “we will not be surprised if parents don’t send their children to the army.”

“We will be similar to Iran and Hungary. Ostensibly a democracy, in practice a dictatorship,” he said. “In another two to three days, we can call Israel a former democracy.”

Later Thursday, Pardo told Channel 12 news that Netanyahu should be put on trial for carrying out a “coup” with his judicial overhaul legislation.

Pardo said he “greatly admires” those IDF reservists that have threatened to stop their voluntary reserve duty if the bill passes, adding that “everyone needs to make their own decision.”

“The person tearing apart the people’s army is the prime minister of Israel,” Pardo added. “He has no right to do so… He is carrying out a coup, with all the elements of a coup that all the history books record. That’s what he’s doing, and for this, I hope that one day he will be brought to justice in a court of law.”

“When a prime minister turns a democratic state into a dictatorship, he should be brought to justice,” Pardo said. “He received a mandate for a legitimate government whose task is to govern. Not for a government whose task or purpose is to change the nature of the regime in Israel.”

Nadav Argaman, a former Shin Bet security service chief, also backed military reservists who are threatening to stop showing up for duty in protest of the overhaul, in an interview with Army Radio on Thursday, hours after the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the bill for its final reading.

“This is a regime coup. We all served under different governments… and received different orders; we believed more in some and less in others; it doesn’t matter. There is a different reality here, regime change is a new reality,” he said.

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