Lapid: All options on the table to stop Knesset becoming ‘North Korean parliament’

Opposition leader says call for 60-day halt to government’s judicial overhaul isn’t a precondition to negotiating; Likud minister urges talks but not ‘with a pistol to the temple’

Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 23, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 23, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Sunday said “we’re not taking anything off the table” in the effort to prevent the government from radically shaking up Israel’s judicial system, apparently backing off a previous call for the ruling coalition to halt its legislative push for two months.

“There’s an attempt here to dismantle Israel’s democracy, society and culture,” Lapid told Army Radio a day after mass rallies were held against the judicial overhaul plans for an eighth consecutive week.

“The people who took to the streets yesterday are trying to save the State of Israel because they want to live in a democratic country and they want to remain one nation,” the Yesh Atid party leader added.

Lapid suggested that the Knesset has become a Potemkin parliament, giving the appearance of a boisterous democratic body in an effort to hoodwink those concerned by the proposed changes to the judiciary.

“We are pretending that we’re still a functioning parliament and as if the Knesset has rules of the game, while they are dismembering the country. I’ve asked myself numerous times if I’m a partner in some sort of show, so they can tell the Americans and international markets that there’s still a democratic Knesset here,” he said.

“They are dismembering the country and I won’t take part in their performances.”

Israelis take part in ongoing protests against controversial legal reforms being touted by the country’s government, in Tel Aviv on February 25, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Asked about the potential for all opposition MKs to resign as an act of protest against the far-reaching judicial changes, Lapid said he and others were discussing “what can be done to stop this madness.”

“We’re deliberating all the possibilities,” he said. Pressed further, he added, “We’re not taking anything off the table because a disaster is happening here.”

“What do you want there to be here? That we wait until it becomes a North Korean parliament in which we’re suppose to clap for the authorities?” Lapid said. “They are leading Israel to ruin.”

Lapid insisted that he did not demand a 60-day freeze on the coalition’s legislative push as a condition for talks, asserting he was merely outlining a plan for holding compromise talks on the proposed overhaul.

“If a country changes its [form of] government, I think it’s appropriate that a few weeks be dedicated to thinking about it,” he said. “But it wasn’t a condition.”

The Yesh Atid chief was also asked about the prospect of a compromise judicial reform agreement being reached but rejected by the protesters, and whether he would seek to convince them to back it.

“I will always do what is right for the State of Israel. If it’s not popular, then it’s not popular, but I’ve been saved from this dilemma because the government isn’t interested in any dialogue,” he said.

Firing back at Lapid, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party said the opposition leader appeared to “have fallen in love” with the protests.

“Lapid seems completely drunk on events, which is helping him to cover up his humiliating election defeat,” Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli told Radio 103FM.

Chikli called for the opposition to hold talks, but ruled out doing so “with a pistol pressed to the temple.”

“We don’t accept threats of ‘stop the legislation or there will be a civil uprising.’ Instead of stopping the legislation, some of the deliberations can be paused and the pace slowed,” he said.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli in Herzliya, January 5, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In a separate interview with Army Radio, Chikli lashed out at former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz and ex-Mossad head Danny Yatom, calling them “floor rags” over recent comments they made against the judicial overhaul.

Speaking Saturday with Channel 13 news, Yatom addressed recent letters by reservist special forces soldiers and pilots who warned they would stop showing up for duty should the government move ahead with its plans.

“The moment when the country, God forbid, becomes undemocratic and they receive an illegitimate command, then it’s legitimate to me that they refuse because it was given by an illegitimate government,” Yatom said.

The more than 100 servicepeople who signed the letter join groups of pilots, tank crew members, submariners, sailors, and other special forces who have penned similar letters in recent weeks.

During an interview earlier this month, Halutz indicated that Israelis would not want to serve in the military if the government moves ahead with its judicial plans.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who is also an ex-military chief and defense minister, expressed a similar sentiment on Thursday, warning that Israel was weeks away from descending into a dictatorship, adding that people would be dutybound to refuse orders by “an illegitimate regime.”

The proposals being advanced by Netanyahu’s right-religious coalition include granting it total control over the appointment of judges, including High Court justices; all but eliminating the High Court’s ability to review and strike down legislation; and allowing politicians to appoint — and fire — their own legal advisers. The plans have spurred mass weekly protests in major cities, alarmed warnings from economists, legal professionals and tech entrepreneurs inside and outside Israel, and fierce criticism from the opposition.

Critics say the plan will deeply undermine Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the coalition and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

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