'Compromise is the mark of democracies'

In US TV interview, Netanyahu says parts of judicial overhaul ‘not going to happen’

PM tells CBS neither court nor parliament should maintain blanket control over the other; insists Israel will remain ‘boisterous, vibrant democracy’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to CBS News in interview aired April 23, 2023. (Screenshot/YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to CBS News in interview aired April 23, 2023. (Screenshot/YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US television on Sunday that a “blanket overhaul” of Supreme Court decisions “is not going to happen” under his planned judicial shakeup.

Speaking to CBS News, Netanyahu says he does “not accept a blanket ability of the parliament to overcome judicial Supreme Court decisions, just as we don’t accept that the court can abrogate any decision by the parliament. Both sides of these extremes hinder the balance between the three branches of government.”

Elaborating, Netanyahu said that there was a “broad consensus” within Israel on the need to “correct” the judicial system, though “there’s a dramatic difference in [the belief on] how” to do so.

“The fact that we have demonstrations is a sign of our democracy. I don’t think anyone should have any doubts that Israel is, and will remain, a vibrant democracy. Boisterous, and vibrant,” the prime minister added.

Netanyahu acknowledged that there are “people on my side of the aisle who believe that the original proposal is not going to happen,” as compromise talks between coalition and opposition representatives continue apace at the President’s Residence.

Netanyahu, in the interview, was shown a video of US President Joe Biden calling on the prime minister last month to “walk away” from the current, highly contentious judicial makeover legislation, under which the coalition would gain almost complete control over the appointment of Israel’s judges, and radically constrain the top court’s spheres of judicial oversight.

Netanyahu responded that he “valued” Israel’s alliance with the US, and his personal friendship with Biden, and insisted that nothing can “get in the way of that.”

“It’s an internal matter we have to resolve, and the way we’re doing it is by seeking consensus. As we speak, right now, there are teams of my own party, the Likud, and the coalition, with teams from the opposition, speaking in the president’s house. This is now the fifth or sixth meeting they’ve had seeking that compromise that I think is the mark of democracies. You don’t walk away from a problem, you try to solve it,” said Netanyahu.

An update from President Isaac Herzog’s office on Sunday said that the ongoing compromise talks were progressing, despite the “complex and fundamental” topics being debated.

“It is important to note that the conversations are being held in a professional and positive atmosphere, with a commitment to reaching agreements,” the statement said.

The talks are set to be paused while the country commemorates Memorial Day, from Monday evening through Tuesday, and celebrates Independence Day, from Tuesday evening through Wednesday. Talks are slated to resume on Thursday.

“All participants in the room expressed hope that Memorial Day would pass with mutual respect among all parts of the people, and they wish the citizens of Israel a happy Independence Day,” Herzog’s office added.

Israel Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has warned that the coalition’s current package of legislation would hand the government virtually unrestrained power, without providing any institutional protections for individual rights. The planned judicial overhaul has sparked widespread opposition across Israel, with senior legal, security, and economic figures warning it will undermine democracy by removing the system of checks and balances and as such will harm the country’s security and economy.

Supporters argue that it will redress the balance between the branches of governance by curbing an overly activist court. Netanyahu paused the legislation last month, amid escalating protests, to allow time for dialogue, but has said the overhaul will pass “one way or another” in the coming Knesset session.

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)

In his CBS interview, Netanyahu was also asked whether extremist members of his current government were fraying Israel’s international relationships, a premise the prime minister dismissed.

He implied that, though the specifics remain confidential, Israel is working towards expanding its circle of friendship with Arab states. “You’re going to be surprised, and sooner than you think.”

Netanyahu has openly stated his desire to forge a peace deal with Saudi Arabia, though in recent weeks Riyadh appears to have reinforced its relationship with the Palestinian Authority, even hosting a Hamas delegation in Saudi last week.

The prime minister was also pressed on reports that he was planning to appoint controversial Likud MK May Golan as Israel’s consul general in New York. While Netanyahu repeatedly said “he hadn’t” appointed Golan, he refused to explicitly rule out the possibility.

Reports of Golan’s potential nomination stirred concern among Israeli and US leaders that the lawmaker would not be welcomed by mainstream Jewish groups in New York, due to past incendiary comments.

Reports earlier Sunday said that Golan’s potential appointment was off the table.

“Anyone I nominate will have to abide by the mainstream positions I’ve advocated,” Netanyahu insisted.

The prime minister said he would meet with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is planning to visit Israel this week, but emphasized that the meeting should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the popular Republican, who is yet to announce his candidacy for US president, but is widely expected to do so.

“Of course [I’ll meet DeSantis], I meet with everyone, Republican and Democrat,” he said. “It’s my job, and I think it’s important for Israel’s bipartisan support in the US.”

Netanyahu was presented with the results of a recent Gallup poll that showed, for the first time, Democrats are likelier to sympathize with Palestinians than with Israelis.

“I think we have to work harder to persuade our Democratic colleagues — or those of our Democratic colleagues who forget perhaps that Israel is the solitary democracy in the Middle East — that America has no better friend and no better ally than Israel,” he responded.

According to Netanyahu, the swing in Democrat sympathy away from Israel began before his current government came to power, and can be traced to the “demonization” of Israel in the media, which he said emphasizes the “collateral damage” incurred by Palestinians in the process of Israel defending itself from terror.

“I’m going to do everything I can to tell the truth about Israel — that it’s a vibrant democracy, that it’s the only one that keeps full civil rights in the Middle East, that America has no better friend, that Israeli intelligence, cybersecurity, and defense cooperation with the United States has saved countless American and Israeli lives,” the prime minister averred.

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