Herzog voices hope on overhaul compromise, knows ‘who is to blame’ if talks fail

In TV interview blitz ahead of Memorial Day, president says he’s convinced Netanyahu wants agreement on judicial revamp, laments ‘most serious internal crisis in country’s history’

President Isaac Herzog speaks at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group in Jerusalem, on February 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President Isaac Herzog speaks at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group in Jerusalem, on February 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog described Israel’s internal societal rift over the government’s suspended judicial overhaul push as “the most serious internal crisis in the country’s history,” but expressed hope that compromise talks would produce a result.

In a round of TV interviews set to be aired on Sunday night, the eve of Israel’s national Memorial Day which is directly followed by Independence Day, Herzog said that if compromise talks between the government and opposition heads fail, he knows “who is to blame,” without mentioning any names.

“This historic responsibility needs to be recorded somewhere,” Herzog told Channel 13.

Herzog told the Kan public broadcaster that some were trying to “pull out the rug” from under the compromise negotiations he is hosting, and warned that “whoever tries to harm the talks will carry the burden of historic responsibility for the fate of the state and the nation.”

The president began hosting the talks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed last month to temporarily halt the government’s push to upend the judicial system following widespread protests, which peaked after he fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant who warned about the security implications of the coalition’s proposals. (Netanyahu later rescinded Gallant’s sacking.)

Asked if Netanyahu was using the compromise talks as political cover to suffocate anti-government protests, Herzog insisted that he was not being “used” by the prime minister.

President Isaac Herzog hosts delegations from Likud, Yesh Atid and National Unity for judicial overhaul negotiations at his residence in Jerusalem, March 28, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“No one is using me,” he told Channel 13. “That phrase is incorrect — I have a great appreciation for Netanyahu. I think that he is a brilliant man who has done great things as prime minister. I don’t want to talk about the current period, because whatever I say will be construed as political.”

“I’m convinced he wants to reach a compromise,” the president declared.

Herzog told the Walla news outlet that if compromise talks prove successful, the court system will have been rebalanced, adding that “just a year or two ago we couldn’t even talk about this topic. Today it’s clear that there has to be some sort of reform with broad consensus.”

He also said that his long political career had prepared him and granted him “peace of mind” to deal with the current crisis. “I know how to talk to everyone,” Herzog told Walla.

He told Ynet that he rejected an offer to resign as president amid the chaos of the past few months as protests against the overhaul grew: “I enjoy great trust in the public from all sectors. I have received various proposals regarding actions and moved that I can take and there was this proposal as well. I rejected it and it does not seem right to me at all.”

Demonstrators lift flags and placards during a rally to protest the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul bill in Tel Aviv, on April 22, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Herzog, addressing bereaved families who have asked for government ministers to stay away from Memorial Day commemorations amid intense social divisions in the country, said that even under the previous government headed by Naftali Bennett and current Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, families contacted the president and asked that government representatives not attend military cemeteries on Memorial Day.

“I told those families to have faith in the state and its democracy, we are all one nation, so too I say now — ‘take a deep breath,'” Herzog told Kan.  Addressing the politicians, he urged them to avoid inflammatory speeches and comments.

“We have one country, we have one state symbol, and we need to bow our heads together and hold ourselves back, breath deeply, and grit our teeth,” Herzog told the Ynet news outlet.

The president’s comments echoed a joint statement published Friday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and National Unity party head Benny Gantz. The leaders, in a rare show of unity, urged Israelis to put aside deep divisions in honor of Memorial Day.

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