Herzog pushes Rothman on judicial compromise; ex-AG warns Israel faces ostracization
Lawmaker leading legislative push says he disagreed with president’s speech in which he blasted current bills, but door not closed on talks
President Isaac Herzog met with MK Simcha Rothman on Sunday in a bid to advance a compromise deal on the government’s controversial judicial revamp.
In the three-hour meeting, Herzog emphasized to Rothman, the head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the need for broad agreement on the legislation, for the benefit of the country, according to the president’s spokesperson.
If enacted without alterations, the legislation will give the government full control over judicial appointments and largely end High Court oversight of legislation, as a central element of the coalition’s wide-ranging move to curb the judiciary and centralize almost all power in the hands of the governing majority.
On Thursday, Herzog gave a televised address to the nation in which he called on the government to scrap its “oppressive” proposals and instead hold a dialogue with opposition parties to reach a compromise.
Earlier on Sunday, Rothman told his committee that while he did not agree with the president’s remarks on Thursday evening, he was listening to him.
“We won’t close the door no matter how much people act and speak against us. Through negotiation, it is possible to reach an agreed-upon solution if people decide that they seek the good of the country and don’t want to burn it,” he said.
According to multiple media outlets, the coalition will bring the override clause — which would allow the Knesset to strike down High Court decisions by a simple majority vote of 61 out of 120 lawmakers — to a first reading at the plenum on Monday, after pressure from the United Torah Judaism party.
Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, said Sunday that a controversial compromise deal he and several others had suggested for the judicial overhaul has failed and is no longer being pursued.
“From my perspective, I would say that as of this morning, the initiative failed,” Eiland told Army Radio. “From my perspective, it’s no longer on the agenda.”
The deal, publicized last week, would have moderated some of the government’s proposals on critical issues such as the balance of power over judicial appointments and the Knesset’s ability to override a decision by the High Court of Justice to strike down legislation.
Eiland said the plan — formed along with former justice minister Daniel Friedmann — was intended as a starting point for talks and to convince the coalition to halt the current legislation for negotiations.
He said that he’d spoken with both Justice Minister Yariv Levin and committee chair Rothman in an attempt to get them to freeze the advancement of the bills, “but they moved forward, even though we very much recommended that they shouldn’t.”
Eiland said that the plan was designed to give the coalition about 80% of what it was seeking, but that even that was rejected, and therefore he doesn’t see a path forward.
The proposal was rejected by overhaul opponents, who said it acquiesced to large swaths of the coalition’s demands, politicizing the judicial appointments panel and leaving court oversight severely limited.
Also on Sunday, former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit stressed that the attorney general and the Supreme Court of Israel were the “first line of defense” for Israel’s Declaration of Independence and that Israel will no longer be a democracy if they are politicized.
Mandelblit, once a close ally of Netanyahu who has been vilified by the premier and his supporters since indicting him on corruption charges, has become increasingly vocal in warning against what he sees as the catastrophic consequences of the legislation.
“We will become a dictatorship. If the attorneys general are appointed by the government and judges are appointed by the government, what is left of the Declaration of Independence? It will become a paper we can throw in the bin,” Mandelblit told top economic officials at a conference hosted by a Tel Aviv law firm.
Current Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has also come out against the legislation and clashed with Netanyahu’s government on multiple issues. Last month Justice Minister Levin appeared to threaten to fire Baharav-Miara in the future.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir told Baharav-Miara on Sunday that he cannot rely on her to represent him in ongoing or pending lawsuits and appeals after butting heads with her several times since taking up his position.
Mandelblit said on Sunday that during his time as attorney general, he had raised the possibility of the government passing legislation to enshrine the values of democracy and liberalism in the country’s founding document, but “they said to me there was no need, that nobody would ever think to harm them, and here now, they want to harm them.
“If the State of Israel wants to be ostracized from the family of nations, let the government decide to disdain court judgments,” he said.
“The cost of such a step would be so devastating, that I don’t believe they would do that. And if they do, every one of us will need to make difficult decisions,” he said.
“The first law, probably for judicial appointments, will pass soon and then the court will [likely] put an injunction on it. And as I said, if the government won’t accept the decision of the Supreme Court, the State of Israel has finished its story as part of the family of nations,” he said, adding he hoped it would not come to that stage.
Mandelblit reiterated comments he made on Saturday that “it is preferable for there not to be a compromise than a bad compromise,” referring to various proposals that have been floated for a softened version of the legal overhaul — none of which have thus far produced negotiations between coalition and opposition figures.
“I am always for compromise and negotiations, but you can’t compromise on the government appointing their own judges and attorneys general. There is no way you can compromise on the independence of the attorney general, and on the Supreme Court’s independence,” he said.
However, Mandelblit said he felt “cautious optimism” that the crisis can be avoided, adding: “It is very optimistic to see large parts of the nation who understand this.”
Over 300,000 Israelis rallied Saturday night across the country in the tenth consecutive week of demonstrations against the government’s proposals.