Levin reportedly says he’s refusing to pause overhaul due to fears of prosecution

Justice minister said to tell political confidants he believes halting legislation would give state prosecutors an opportunity to frame him on trumped-up charges

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin has reportedly claimed that the government must not pause its rapidly advancing judicial overhaul legislative plan, because otherwise state prosecutors will seize the moment to try to indict him on trumped-up charges.

Levin’s reported comments came as the government appeared to be plowing full speed ahead with its divisive legislation to radically restructure the justice system, after President Isaac Herzog’s alternative proposal for reforms was immediately rejected by coalition chiefs.

For weeks, the opposition has demanded the legislative process of the overhaul be frozen for a set time to allow for talks on a compromise. The coalition has said it is open to negotiations, but without preconditions, adamantly refusing to slow down the legislation which Levin has said he aims to get enacted into law by the end of the month.

Channel 12 news reported Thursday evening that Levin told a closed-door meeting of political confidants that “if I stop, the prosecutors will take advantage of it to stitch together a case against me or one of my friends in order to discourage us and to thwart the reform.”

Levin’s purported use of the Hebrew phrase “to stitch together a case against me” has been a common refrain among critics of the ongoing corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has denied all wrongdoing in the case and accused prosecutors of fabricating an indictment to remove him from office.

Levin, the chief architect of the government’s overhaul plan, has appeared to be the least open to compromise on any element of the deal. Numerous reports in recent weeks — denied by the Prime Minister’s Office — have indicated that Netanyahu has sought to soften the current legislation but received fierce pushback from Levin, who has threatened to quit.

In a briefing to reporters in Berlin on Thursday, Netanyahu said that he was “attentive to what is happening among the people,” and believes the coalition must act “responsibly” to come to an agreement, but again rejected Herzog’s outline.

Israelis protest outside the home of Justice Minister Yariv Levin in Modiin, on March 9, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

The government’s plan, as it stands, would allow the Knesset to override court decisions with the barest majority, preemptively shield laws from judicial oversight altogether, and put the selection of all judges in the hands of coalition politicians. Opponents argue it will radically weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters call it a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.

The president’s proposed framework, which was published on a new (Hebrew) website as he spoke, addresses critical aspects of the relationship between the branches of government, including giving greater constitutional heft to the Basic Laws; how judges are selected; judicial review over Knesset legislation; and the authority of government legal advisers and the attorney general. It would also enshrine some fundamental civil rights in the Basic Laws that are not explicitly protected at present.

Despite 11 weeks of mass protests against the government’s plans and stark warnings from business, military, legal and financial officials in Israel and around the world, the coalition has not paused or slowed down any of its planned legislation. On Sunday, the Knesset is scheduled to vote to give final approval to a bill that would severely limit the ability of courts or lawmakers to remove a prime minister who is unfit for office. Further votes to finalize other portions of the plan, including the highly contentious override clause, are expected by the end of the month.

Herzog has led calls in recent weeks for opposition and coalition lawmakers to sit down for negotiations, urged the coalition to “abandon” the current legislation, and warned Wednesday that Israel is heading toward a “real civil war” amid the bitter national dispute over the overhaul plan.

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