Former president Rivlin: Plan reeks of 'settling of scores'

‘It’s not a reform, it’s a pogrom’: Former AG chastises planned judicial upheaval

Yehuda Weinstein, who served under Netanyahu for 6 years, says he opposes all parts of plan; justice minister, Supreme Court chief meet for first time since trading public barbs

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hand with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 14, 2010. (AP Photos/Ronen Zvulun, Pool)
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hand with the attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 14, 2010. (AP Photos/Ronen Zvulun, Pool)

Yehuda Weinstein, who served as attorney general during two governments led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Tuesday denounced the coalition’s plan to radically overhaul the legal and judicial system as “a pogrom” and said he opposed every aspect of it.

Speaking at a conference at Tel Aviv University, Weinstein said he could agree to reforms to the judicial and legal system, but argued that the proposals laid out by Justice Minister Yariv Levin were being advanced too hastily and without due consideration.

His comments came as tensions between the government and the judiciary continued to simmer over the government’s proposed upheaval, which has been denounced by the opposition and the legal establishment as posing a severe danger to democratic rights, but lauded by the coalition as a tool to ensure the will of the majority is upheld.

Against that backdrop, Levin and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut met on Tuesday, following recriminations they traded last week after Hayut lambasted the shakeup, although no details were released from the meeting.

According to a report by Walla, President Isaac Herzog has been trying to mediate between Levin and Hayut, and met with both figures separately earlier this week. Levin and Hayut are reportedly scheduled to meet again next week.

Speaking at the Tel Aviv University conference, Weinstein did not hold back in his criticism of Levin’s proposals.

“They are trying to change the legal system as we know it, and everything is being done speedily and without consideration. I am opposed to everything in it,” said Weinstein, who served as attorney general under Netanyahu from 2010-16.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and other justices at a hearing of the High Court of Justice on petitions against the appointment of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as a minister due to his recent conviction for tax offenses, January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Levin’s reforms would drastically limit the High Court of Justice’s power of judicial review of legislation; allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws if the court strikes them down; give the government total control over judicial appointments; turn ministry legal advisers’ into political appointees, and make their counsel non-binding.

The former attorney general said he was particularly opposed to changing the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee, from the current system whereby the government and the High Court have an equal number of representatives to one in which the government and its appointed representatives are in the majority.

“I oppose changes to the appointment of judges, I don’t know of a better system than this [the current composition of the committee],” he said.

Weinstein added that he was also opposed to Levin’s proposal to appoint the Supreme Court president through a vote of the Judicial Selection Committee instead of in accordance with the seniority of the justices on the court, and said government legal advisers “cannot be political appointees.”

He also said he opposed abolishing the use by the High Court of the principle of “reasonableness,” which the court has used to reverse some government and administrative decisions on the grounds that not all relevant considerations were taken into account or given the appropriate weight when the decision was made.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee on January 16, 2023. (Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset)

“The principle of ‘reasonableness’ has been with us since the very beginning, it came to us from English common law, not from [former Supreme Court president] Aharon Barak, and I don’t propose that it should be changed,” said Weinstein.

He did, however, say certain reforms could be acceptable, including stipulations that in order for the High Court to strike down laws it do so with an expanded panel and a specific majority.

Weinstein even said he could accept a law allowing the Knesset to re-legislate laws struck down by the High Court, perhaps the most controversial aspect of Levin’s proposals, with a majority of 64 MKs, as long as that included a certain percentage of opposition MKs.

Levin currently proposes such a law with the vote of just 61 MKs.

At a separate conference at Bar Ilan University organized by former justice minister Gideon Sa’ar, the National Unity MK said the government’s proposals were leading the country into “the greatest constitutional and governmental crisis” in its history and accused Netanyahu of instigating the legal upheaval to cope with his corruption trials.

Former Justice minister MK Gideon Sa’ar speaks during a conference at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, January 17, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“The democratic regime is under attack and the motivation is clear — the political takeover of the [state] prosecution while it is conducting criminal proceedings against the prime minister,” said Sa’ar at the conference.

The former justice minister added, “This is not the Levin plan, this is the Netanyahu plan. The voice is that of Levin but the hands are those of Netanyahu,” he added, referencing the biblical story of Jacob and Esau.

Also in attendance at the conference was the last attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, who has publicly stated his opposition to the government’s plans, as well as former president Reuven Rivlin.

Rivlin said pointedly that the changes sought by the government were not designed to “balance” the powers of the judiciary and the government, and added that he believed the path chosen by the coalition “reeks of revenge and the settling of scores.”

“You were elected to govern; we need reform and change, not revenge,” said Rivlin.

Tensions between the government and the judiciary have spiked dramatically in the less than three weeks since the new government was sworn in over the radical changes proposed by Levin.

Former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a conference at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, January 17, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Last week, Hayut, the Supreme Court president, denounced Levin’s plans as “a fatal blow to Israeli democracy,” and an “unbridled attack on the judicial system as if it were an enemy that must be attacked and subdued.”

Levin in turn accused Hayut and the court of having an explicit political agenda and of partnering with opposition parties in opposing his plans.

“It turns out there’s another party in Israel — a party that didn’t run in the elections two months ago, a party that places itself above the Knesset, above the public referendum,” said the justice minister.

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