ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Levin said to threaten to quit government if overhaul bills remain shelved

Justice minister quoted telling associates that without progress on halted legislation, ‘what reason do I have to be in the government?’ as compromise talks show little progress

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin during the weekly meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 2, 2023. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin during the weekly meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 2, 2023. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin is reportedly threatening to exit the government unless at least some of its judicial overhaul legislation is passed before the Knesset adjourns at the end of July.

Levin said that if the ongoing compromise talks brokered by President Isaac Herzog do not prove fruitful, he wants to move ahead with the legislation regardless, once the state budget has been passed, Channel 12 reported Sunday evening.

The justice minister — a key architect of the government’s plan to exert greater political control over the judiciary — reportedly told his associates that if nothing is advanced in the next two months, “what reason do I have to be in the government?”

According to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is eager to finish the current Knesset session — which ends on July 30 — without bringing any of the highly contentious legislation back to the parliamentary floor. It is unclear whether he will be forced to appease Levin and other similarly minded members of his coalition.

After rushing a range of legislation through the Knesset, Netanyahu announced in late March a pause to the bills over the Passover break, in order to allow for compromise talks aimed at reaching a broad agreement.

While the talks are ongoing, it is unclear how much progress has been made. Last week, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman urged fellow opposition figures Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz to pull out of the negotiations, casting doubt on the government’s sincerity.

President Isaac Herzog hosts delegations from Likud, Yesh Atid and National Unity for judicial overhaul negotiations at his residence in Jerusalem, March 28, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Levin long expressed resistance to halting the legislation at all, although he has since said that he believes the talks at the President’s Residence should be given a chance.

A report last week claimed that the justice minister had reached out to Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas in an attempt to gain his backing for the legislation as a “safety net.” Abbas has said he would not vote for the legislation in its current iterations.

While the main anti-overhaul protest in Tel Aviv was canceled on Saturday night due to fears of rocket fire, demonstrations were held in several cities across Israel for the 19th straight week.

“Rain or sunshine, hot or cold, during war or peace, we’re here,” said Shikma Bressler, one of the leaders of the protest movements at the Nahalal protest. “We understand well the only danger that really threatens the existence of the state of Israel is the judicial overhaul.”

Protesters against the government’s planned judicial overhaul at Goma Junction, northern Israel, on May 13, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Critics say the overhaul will sap the High Court of Justice of its power to act as a check and balance against parliament, dangerously eroding Israel’s democratic character. Supporters say the legislation is needed to rein in what they see as an over-intrusive court system.

The issue was largely put on the back burner during the five-day conflict with Gaza, which culminated in a ceasefire on Saturday night.

On Friday, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) affirmed Israel’s favorable rating, but cited “persistent domestic and regional political and security risks” as potential threats to the economy.

The agency said it expected “some form of consensus” over the suspended judicial overhaul bid, which will allow “political tensions to moderate.” But it also warned that if the legislation does move forward, it “could further exacerbate the polarization of domestic politics,” while throwing it out entirely could lead to “the government resigning and another out-of-cycle general election.”

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