A group of former national security advisers, including several appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Saturday urged the opposing sides of the government’s push to radically transform the judicial system to meet in an effort to reach a compromise.
In a letter sent to Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, the ex-aides, including former Mossad chief and close Netanyahu ally Yossi Cohen, warned the lack of agreement could undermine Israel’s security, as “the national resilience of Israeli society” has enabled the country to tackle external threats.
“In recent weeks, the political crisis has developed into a grave societal crisis,” they warned. “Lately, the flashpoint has been the judicial reform. The extreme comments that have been heard show the depth of the rift in the public. The feelings of crisis and distress are growing stronger because there is no serious effort to reach agreements of any type.”
Citing their security backgrounds, the advisors warned that the intensity of the current “social and political conflict is endangering national resilience.” They said it was therefore incumbent upon coalition and opposition leaders to hold “serious dialogue without pre-existing conditions… to reach an agreed-upon framework regarding the relations between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.”
“Only by reaching an agreed-upon framework will national resilience be strengthened, serving as proof that Israel is a strong and thriving country,” they added.
The letter was signed by the majority of national security advisers since the post was created in 1999 (during Netanyahu’s first stint as premier). Among them are several Netanyahu appointees, including Uzi Arad, Yaakov Amidror, Yaakov Nagel and Yossi Cohen. Cohen would go on to be appointed by Netanyahu as Mossad chief and is reportedly viewed by the prime minister as a potential political successor.
While urging dialogue, the national security advisers did not take a position on the proposed overhaul itself, nor explicitly call for its advancement to be slowed.
Also Saturday, over 500 graduates of the military’s prestigious Talpiot program signed a letter calling on the government to immediately stop legislating the proposed changes.
“The legislative changes being advanced at the moment will harm citizens, the country and security,” they wrote.
Talpiot is an elite IDF training program for soldiers who have demonstrated academic excellence in the sciences. The soldiers pursue academic degrees in physics, math or computer science while serving in the IDF.
Additionally, a group of 18 former Supreme Court justices issued a statement Saturday warning against the coalition’s plans, which they charged would weaken Israel’s democracy.
“The plan not only presents a grave threat to the judicial system, but also the nature of the [political] system and way of life in Israel, in particular the possibility to fairly and efficiently protect the basic rights of every person. We see it as our duty to warn of this danger before it is realized,” the judges wrote in the open letter, published in the Calcalist business daily.
While hailing Israel’s judicial system, the justices said they were possibly open to changes “after a suitable examination,” but warned against the far-reaching nature of the government’s proposals and the manner in whey they are being advanced.
“The proposed changes… are causing severe and dangerous polarization in society and they may bring disaster upon Israel,” they said, urging the government to halt the legislation and instead agree to the formation of a public committee that would deliberate potential reforms.
Ex-chief justices Aharon Barak and Dorit Beinisch were among the signatories. The former gave a series of interviews last month in which he forcefully came out against the government’s proposed upending of the judiciary.
As presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin Levin, the coalition’s proposals would severely restrict the High Court’s capacity to strike down 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.
Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch, and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended. Netanyahu has pushed back against the criticism.
A committee vote on some of the proposals is set for Monday, February 13, ahead of a first plenary reading. A bill must pass three readings to become law, and the coalition has indicated it seeks to blitz the legislation through the Knesset by April.