National Unity party leader Benny Gantz on Friday denounced Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s biting attack on Supreme Court justices, saying the remarks called into question the coalition’s commitment to reaching a consensus on judicial reform as part of ongoing negotiations with the opposition.
Speaking Thursday at a mass rally in Jerusalem in support of the government’s judicial overhaul, Levin tore into Israel’s top court and defended the far-reaching proposals to change the judiciary, which he has been spearheading.
“The time has come for a High Court that does not give rights to the families of terrorists, and does not permit fake memorial services together with terror supporters.” Israel needs a court that “punishes rapists and doesn’t seek ways to protect them,” Levin said. “A court that protects IDF soldiers and not the terrorists’ neighbors.”
Levin also expressed support for the compromise talks being led by President Isaac Herzog, while accusing opposition representatives of rejecting all offers.
Responding to Levin’s comments, Gantz slammed the justice minister and other coalition figures for “inciting and lying” during the Jerusalem demonstration.
“Levin’s false and unrestrained comments against the High Court evoke difficult thoughts about the ability to reach agreements in the talks at the President’s Residence, agreements that are needed for the Israeli people at this time,” Gantz said in a statement.
Turning to the rally itself, Gantz called protesting a “sacred right in a democracy and that’s what we’re fighting for,” before denouncing demonstrators who were filmed walking on a massive banner with the faces of Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and a number of former top judicial and legal officials, alongside slogans against them. It was unclear whether this was intentional or whether the banner had been briefly placed on the ground before being later lifted by activists as they marched near the Knesset.
“In the State of Israel, which has magnificent and strong judicial institutions, a justice minister can’t incite against judges. You can criticize, but not incite,” Gantz said, adding that Levin’s remarks “cause those who really want agreements… to ask ourselves if the other side also wants them.”
Gantz called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “unequivocally” condemn Levin’s comments, charging that the lack of rebuke “was no less disturbing.” He also said he would attend the anti-government weekly rallies this Saturday evening.
“I call on you Israeli citizens, anyone for whom the future of democracy is important, to go out and express your views in favor of democracy and strengthening it,” he said.
Other opposition figures also tore into Levin, with Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid slamming “the speeches of incitement” by the justice minister and other coalition members.
National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar, Levin’s predecessor as justice minister, described the address “as one of the gravest speeches of incitement to date against the judicial system that he heads.” Sa’ar said it was designed to “torpedo the compromise talks and continue the delegitimization of the judicial system, in order to dismantle it as an independent system and to place it under his control.”
In response to Thursday’s rally, the organizers of the weekly night anti-overhaul rallies said they were “intensifying the protests” and would on Saturday “announce new measures to stop the oncoming dictatorship.”
“Starting this Sunday, as the Knesset recess ends, only one vote separates Israel from becoming an ultranationalist dictatorship,” they said in a statement. “This is a clear and immediate danger to Israel’s democracy. The negotiations headed by the president have proven to be deceptive… Only hundreds of thousands of Israelis protesting in the streets can stop the judicial coup.”