'The leaders owe us the truth'

Herzog urges leaders to ‘end crisis,’ claims wide support for overhaul compromise

President highlights ‘moment of truth’ for political leadership, urges ‘courage and responsibility’ to reach a deal ‘in the spirit of the values of the Declaration of Independence’

Israeli president Isaac Herzog speaks at the President residence in Jerusalem, September 6, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Israeli president Isaac Herzog speaks at the President residence in Jerusalem, September 6, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday warned Israel was facing a threat from within and urged its leaders to compromise on the government’s judicial overhaul that has riven the country, saying his latest proposal is widely supported in both the coalition and the opposition.

The political leadership must show “courage and responsibility to get us out of this crisis,” Herzog said, in a televised speech from the Latrun military site in central Israel.

“This is a moment of truth for the political system,” he said, at an event to mark 50 years since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, falls later this month, according to the Hebrew calendar.

Herzog told those gathered at the ceremony that his proposed compromise has wide purchase in both the coalition and opposition. He gave no hint as to whom he sees as preventing the sides from reaching an agreement.

Such an agreement, he said, should be “in the spirit of the values of the Declaration of Independence — yes, in the spirit of this founding document, and will allow us all to get out of the crisis that has plagued us for about nine months.”

“The leaders owe us the truth,” Herzog said. “An agreement is possible, we can bring the nation back to prosperity.”

“Now, we need decisiveness, we need a decision of leadership,” he said. “Our tradition of leadership is not to just look at your base, but to consider the nation over narrow political considerations.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hardline government have been advancing a radical judicial overhaul since taking office over eight months ago that has sparked sustained mass demonstrations, large-scale refusals by army reservists to show up for volunteer duty, and dire warnings that the moves would undermine the country’s democracy, security and economy.

Herzog earlier this year sponsored talks between coalition and opposition parties to reach an agreement on constructive judicial reform, but the negotiations failed. Then, earlier this month, the president proposed a framework to act as a basis for fresh talks to reach an agreement.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and all 14 other judges hear petitions against the ‘reasonableness law’ at the court in Jerusalem on September 12, 2023. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard petitions against the only part of the overhaul that has been passed into law so far. During the discussion, which probed fundamental concepts on the relationship between the Knesset and the court, the lead attorney for the government challenged the continued relevance of the Declaration of Independence, which was written over seventy-five years ago. Attorney Ilan Bombach faced a storm of criticism for his remarks.

“It goes without saying and it should not even be a topic of discussion, that in the Jewish and democratic state of Israel, it is mandatory for everyone to be subject to the rule of law and to obey the rulings of the court,” Herzog said, in an apparent reference to those within the coalition who have said that they will not accept a court decision that goes against the government, setting up the potential for a constitutional crisis.

The president also voiced support for changes to the judiciary, but said they should not be done unilaterally.

Netanyahu said Monday he was working to “exhaust every possibility” to reach a broad agreement on the judicial overhaul. Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition National Unity party, said he would be willing to accept a compromise deal on the judicial overhaul if it “preserved democracy,” as reports swirled that Netanyahu was planning to announce a unilateral softening of the legislation in a bid to head off a confrontation with the High Court.

However, Gantz reiterated his call from last week for the prime minister to first prove he has the political support from his hardline coalition necessary to compromise.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin has repeatedly refused to compromise on the overhaul and reportedly threatened to topple the government if Netanyahu waters it down. The heads of the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties have also rejected a compromise.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid has so far indicated he does not believe Netanyahu is sincere in wanting to reach an agreement.

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