‘Legitimizing the illegitimate’: Liberman urges Gantz, Lapid to end overhaul talks

Former finance minister says negotiations serve Netanyahu’s efforts to pass budget, dent international opposition to his efforts to neuter the judiciary

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman MK Avigdor Liberman during a debate in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party chairman MK Avigdor Liberman during a debate in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman called on Monday for fellow opposition party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz to abandon negotiations on the judicial overhaul immediately, claiming that the talks are a facade serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s other political interests.

The former finance minister told Ynet that the talks are providing Netanyahu with the political calm necessary to pass the national budget. Furthermore, he claimed that from the outset, “it was clear that these aren’t negotiations, these are blame games, and [Gantz’s and Lapid’s] participation is legitimizing something that is totally illegitimate.”

“Anyone who has seen Netanyahu’s interviews with the foreign press over the past week has noticed how important it is to him to emphasize that we are a democracy. It is a mistake to give him such legitimization,” Liberman added. “His goal is to take over the Supreme Court.”

Negotiations between coalition and opposition representatives in an attempt to formulate broad consensus on judicial reform were initiated at the President’s Residence following the suspension of the initial overhaul bills in March. The proposed pieces of legislation, which would have granted the ruling coalition the power to select almost all judges while drastically curtailing judicial review, was halted amid a wave of public dissent, including mass protests, widespread strikes, appeals from President Isaac Herzog, and intense opposition from business leaders and members of crucial IDF reserve units.

Liberman, in his Monday comments, also addressed recent polls showing there was public support for the talks, saying that while he understood the sentiment, it was the role of politicians to lead.

On Thursday, President Isaac Herzog’s office said that the first round of negotiations over the judicial overhaul has been completed, following a meeting between representatives of the coalition, Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, and Gantz’s National Unity party.

Demonstrators protest against the judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on May 6, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

On Saturday, an estimated 100,000-180,000 protesters against the overhaul plan rallied across Israel for the 18th week in a row. Approximately 7,000 protesters gathered outside the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Speaking at a protest in Rehovot, Lapid said that “we’ll leave no stone unturned to see if there’s a chance to reach a historic agreement that will be with us for a hundred years into the future, but we won’t let them just stall for time to save their government.”

“This government can’t hold talks at the President’s Residence while at the same time slandering the High Court and sending thugs into the streets,” the opposition leader added. “This government needs to take all the bills off the Knesset table and to understand: There won’t be a situation in which the coalition chooses judges for itself. This won’t happen, not on our watch.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks during a ’40-signatures debate’ at the Knesset on May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Gantz, whose opposition party has recently seen a massive rise in polls, told demonstrators in Netanya he hoped for progress in the negotiations, but that he’d “reevaluate” the talks if there was none.

“I’m not willing to be satisfied with [only] dialogue, even though I was the first to call for it. I want to see progress toward a solution, and if there is no progress, we will reevaluate,” the former defense minister said.

Ahead of the demonstrations, protest organizers called on Lapid and Gantz to end their participation in the talks soon, saying that the discussions with the coalition were “a plot by Netanyahu to waste time in order to pass a budget.”

If a resolution is not reached in the coming days, they said, the opposition should exit the negotiations.

National Unity party chair MK Benny Gantz gives a press statement in the southern town of Sderot, May 3, 2023. (Flash90)

Saturday night’s protests come after protesters on Thursday carried out acts of civil disobedience, including blocking major highways around the country. Activists also staged demonstrations outside the homes of prominent cabinet ministers as well as offices of state religious institutions.

Although the coalition’s legislative program to remake the legal and judicial system is on hold, organizers are seeking to prevent a decline in the fervor of the protests, fearing the coalition could resume the legislation at any moment.

The government’s planned judicial overhaul has sparked widespread opposition across Israel, with senior legal, security, and economic figures warning the move will undermine democracy by removing the system of checks and balances and as such will harm the country’s security and economy. Proponents argue they are defending democracy by reining in an activist court.

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