Next gov't wants to rule 'without any brakes' on its power

Lapid: Netanyahu and allies intend to dismantle the democratic foundations of Israel

Outgoing prime minister says expected successor motivated solely by desire to end his criminal trial; Gantz decries incoming government potentially forming a ‘Ben Gvir militia’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Yair Lapid address the Israel Democracy Institute on November 28, 2022 (IDI screenshot)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid address the Israel Democracy Institute on November 28, 2022 (IDI screenshot)

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid launched a blistering attack on prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, accusing him of “a crime of opportunity” in seeking judicial reforms that would affect his ongoing corruption trial.

The prime minister-designate and his expected coalition colleagues, Lapid charged, were seeking to remove all limitations on the political majority of the day, and to turn Israel into a country “without gatekeepers, without courts…  dismantling the democratic foundations of the country.”

“Netanyahu wants to decide who the prosecutor in his trial will be. Netanyahu wants to decide the identity of the judges who will hear his appeal,” Lapid told a conference of the Israel Democracy Institute. “Netanyahu wants to pass a law that would bar indictments against a prime minister, because he is a prime minister who has been indicted.”

“This isn’t judicial reform,” Lapid added. “This isn’t ideology. This is a crime of opportunity.”

Lapid, who is expected to become opposition leader once Netanyahu succeeds in nailing down his expected 64-seat coalition, said “we must stop this. This is what we are determined to fight against.”

The parties expected to comprise the next government have been vocal in seeking a drastic overhaul of the judicial system, including a High Court override clause that would allow the Knesset to overturn High Court decisions that strike down laws; putting more politicians on the Judicial Selection Committee; and splitting the role of attorney general and state prosecutor in two. Some have suggested removing from the penal code the criminal charge of breach of trust — the key charge in Netanyahu’s trial.

Such proposed judicial reforms — which have been among the loudest demands of the six parties expected to make up the next government — are being floated for only one reason, Lapid averred.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial at the Jerusalem District Court on May 17, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“It’s completely personal,” he said. “They are dragging the country into a dangerous, anti-democratic spiral that endangers the economy, harms security and will bring international sanctions upon us — just because they have personal issues.”

The outgoing prime minister pointed out that before his criminal troubles, Netanyahu had never attempted to pass such sweeping judicial reforms during his many years in power.

“He didn’t think we needed an override clause,” Lapid said. “He didn’t think politicians should appoint judges. He didn’t think to separate the role of the attorney general from the job of chief prosecutor.”

Lapid claimed that there is “nothing [Netanyahu] will not do” to avoid going to prison. He claimed that most of the parties expected to make up the next government “don’t believe at all in the idea of democracy.”

He pointed out that the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, is a former convicted criminal who is now looking to bend or change current laws to allow his return to the position of minister despite his legal stains.

“So they can do whatever they want, they can solve all their problems, and they can have much more comfortable lives — without gatekeepers, without courts, without anyone monitoring their personal expenses, with a panicked and limited media, without checks and balances and above all, without any brakes,” Lapid said.

The public needs to be aware, Lapid concluded, that they are “tricking, harming and dismantling the democratic foundations of the country — all for personal reasons.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends an Israel Democracy Institute conference in Jerusalem on November 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In his own speech at the Israel Democracy Institute conference, outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz also lobbed criticism at proposals floated by the expected future government.

If an override clause is instated that allows a narrow 61-vote majority to bypass High Court rulings, the incoming government “will be impossible to stop,” Gantz said. “We don’t really have any other tools — we have the judicial tool, the media tool and the parliamentary tool.”

Gantz also harshly criticized the expanded role that Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir is expected to hold in the newly created post of national security minister in the next government, taking on oversight of some Border Police officers previously controlled by the Defense Ministry.

Such a decision, Gantz said, “stems from, at best, a lack of understanding and, at worst, a desire to establish a Ben Gvir militia.”

Moves to shift security powers away from the IDF, Gantz added, are “mistakes that will lead to substantial security breaches and could — God forbid — cost human lives.”

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