Minister blames dissent within Likud for legislation's pause

Levin accuses US administration of cooperating with judicial overhaul opponents

In closed-door remarks, justice minister acknowledges US officials’ anti-overhaul stances are heartfelt; adds he’s at a disadvantage due to alleged media support for judiciary

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Justice Minister Yariv Levin (left) at a dinner with Haredi activists, May 1, 2023. (Walla screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin (left) at a dinner with Haredi activists, May 1, 2023. (Walla screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin has claimed the United States administration has been cooperating with protesters against his judicial overhaul proposals, and has blamed dissent from within his Likud party for the pause in the legislation, Hebrew media revealed Monday.

Footage of a meal with Haredi activists on Sunday evening, published by the Walla news site, showed Levin railing against the media’s opposition to the overhaul, which he said put the coalition at an “unimaginable disadvantage,” but said he was “determined to fight on this issue.”

“They have the court, the attorney general, the heads of the economy, the American government — which works in cooperation with them on this issue, which is evident by the things government spokespeople say there,” Levin said.

He then clarified that he believed remarks against the overhaul by US officials were made as an honest reflection of their views, and not as some kind of conspiracy against the legislation.

Levin has spearheaded proposals to bring most judicial appointments under government control and curb the High Court of Justice’s ability to execute judicial review over the coalition’s decisions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a pause to the efforts in late March in order to allow for President Isaac Herzog to lead negotiations aimed at reaching a broad consensus, but fiery rhetoric that has continued into the new Knesset session that began Sunday has led many in the opposition to fear that the coalition could soon pick up right where it left off.

The justice minister told the ultra-Orthodox activists on Sunday that even had the government done a better job explaining the overhaul legislation, it wouldn’t have changed the course of events, due to the opposition’s financing and its alleged “decisive control of journalism,” listing mainstream news sites like Walla, Ynet, and Israel Hayom — a paper that until several years ago was staunchly loyal to Netanyahu.

Levin blamed the pause in the legislation on divisions within Likud over the issue, and said unity among party ranks was needed.

“The situation can’t stay like this. I am making great efforts to close ranks in Likud and in the coalition,” he said, adding that he wanted an agreement that brings “real and not meaningless cosmetic changes.”

Several Likud MKs spoke out publicly in favor of halting the legislative process before a decision was made, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. His subsequent firing by Netanyahu, which was reversed weeks later, was the catalyst for mass protests and a general strike that prompted Netanyahu’s move to pause the overhaul and launch compromise talks.

On these ongoing negotiations, Levin said the opposition hasn’t agreed to a single clause, but added it was preferable “to try and exhaust this effort, it’s good for everyone.”

A key overhaul bill that would put judicial appointments under political control has passed nearly all legislative stages and is ready to be passed within days, if the coalition so desires. However, analysts and commentators believe the coalition will not advance any of the legislation before passing the state budget, which it must do by May 29 or face automatic elections.

Critics say the overhaul, which will shift much of the judiciary’s power into the government’s hands, will make Israel a democracy in name only, shielding leaders from accountability while leaving minority rights largely unprotected and subject to the whims of Netanyahu’s hard-right government. Proponents say the changes are needed to rein in what they see as an overly activist court.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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