Herzog: 'The sole, most simple solution is to sit and talk'

Lapid calls for talks as he slams coalition for seeking to appoint ‘obedient puppets’

Opposition leader says eliminating judicial reasonableness test would let gov’t ‘fire all the gatekeepers’; Smotrich says legislation cannot be halted for negotiations

Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset on July 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset on July 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid denounced the government on Monday for its efforts to appoint what he called “obedient puppets” to positions of authority, hours ahead of the first Knesset reading on legislation limiting the use of the judicial doctrine of reasonableness.

“This is a government that has abandoned all restraint. Canceling the judicial test of reasonableness in the format they have submitted to the Knesset says one thing: the law doesn’t apply to them,” said Lapid during a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party.

“They can fire all the gatekeepers, from the attorney general on down, and switch them out with obedient and subservient puppets who won’t interfere with them when they corrupt the country,” he warned.

Lapid and fellow opposition party head Benny Gantz separately called on the ruling coalition to halt its reasonableness curtailment bill and renew negotiations towards a consensus on changes to the judiciary, which government figures either ignored or rebuffed.

On Monday evening, the Knesset is set to advance the bill to outlaw judicial review over the reasonableness of decisions by the cabinet, ministers and unspecified other elected officials, in the first full plenum vote on a core judicial overhaul bill since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze the package in late March.

Demonstrations against the Netanyahu government’s plan to reduce judicial checks on political power are expected to erupt across Israel on Tuesday in response.

Israelis protest against the judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on July 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

After having walked out on compromise talks in mid-June due to the coalition’s failure to fully staff and convene the Judicial Selection Committee, responsible for picking the country’s judges, Lapid and Gantz called on Monday for a resumption of talks.

“It’s still not too late. It’s still possible to stop,” Lapid said, while Gantz’s National Unity party put out a video clip earlier on Monday to urge the coalition to return to negotiations.

Gantz, speaking at the start of his own Knesset faction meeting, said his party won’t return to negotiations over the government’s judicial overhaul program unless it addresses all aspects of the initiative, not only the limitations on the use of the judicial tool of reasonableness.

The National Unity party leader also said he had urged President Isaac Herzog to convene a meeting with him, Netanyahu and Lapid before the vote on the reasonableness bill to discuss an immediate resumption of negotiations over the judicial overhaul program and a halt to the legislative process.

But not all opposition parties support the talks. Avigdor Liberman, who leads Yisrael Beytenu, has long dismissed the talks as mere window dressing, and on Monday urged Lapid and Gantz not to resume judicial negotiations with the coalition, saying Netanyahu cannot be trusted to fulfill his promises.

The Yisrael Beytenu leader also joined Lapid in alleging that Netanyahu intends to fire Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara through a government decision, saying that Netanyahu “organized a lynching against the attorney general” as part of a plan to force her to resign of her own accord.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

Liberman was referring to a tempestuous Sunday cabinet meeting, during which numerous ministers blasted Baharav-Miara and law enforcement for their handling of anti-government protesters.

Far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich called on Monday for negotiations on judicial reform to be held as part of the legislative process, rather than as separate talks during which the legislation would be paused.

“There is discussion all of the time. I don’t understand this idea of stopping for dialogue. The Knesset is a place for dialogue,” he said during his Religious Zionism party’s Knesset faction meeting. “It’s the most democratic thing in the world.”

An anti-overhaul protester interrupted Smotrich’s remarks, telling the Religious Zionism party head to “choose the people of Israel, land isn’t everything,” before being escorted out of the conference room.

Earlier on Monday, Smotrich released a statement in support of the reasonableness bill, accusing the opposition of being contrarian.

“If the opposition were acting fairly they would support this required amendment, but unfortunately everything is a stance for them and they oppose everything,” he wrote, adding that: “Their real goal is to overthrow the government.”

Fellow cabinet minister and far-right party leader Itamar Ben Gvir took his support a step further, in fiery comments made at a Monday conference honoring the Chabad movement.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a Knesset faction meeting of his far-right Religious Zionism party, July 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“On the subject of the reason for reasonableness, we should not only go for the reasonableness doctrine, but also to change the Judicial Selection Committee and  to pass the legal adviser bill, and to introduce all these things that bring governance, security and victory to the people of Israel,” the national security minister said, alluding to several other bills within the overhaul package.

Taking a compromise position, Likud Economy Minister Nir Barkat, who belongs to Netanyahu’s party, said that after advancing the bill on Monday, the coalition should return to talks.

In an interview with the ultra-Orthodox Kikar Hashabat news site, Barkat said: “If you asked me, I’d recommend returning to the President’s Residence between the first and the second and third readings to work out a broadly agreed-upon reasonableness clause, as is possible.”

Herzog reissued a similar call on Monday, saying it was still “possible to reach agreement. The sole and most simple solution is to sit and talk.”

Herzog hailed the growing calls of support — “openly and privately” — for the resumption of the talks “regarding the foundational issues tearing us apart,” which he said included the so-called reasonableness bill.

“In the middle of a deep and worrying crisis, the responsible thing to do as a leader is to sit, talk and put Israeli unity before everything,” he said.

Herzog also said both coalition and opposition leaders “must speak and mend the split, and this must happen now.”

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