President: No deadline on efforts for consensus on reform

Levin claims top court pursues ‘post-Zionist agendas’; is told to ‘get hospitalized’

In bitter Knesset debate, justice minister foils opposition bid to enshrine equality into Basic Law, calling it ‘hypocrisy’ amid ongoing talks on judicial compromise

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks in the Knesset on May 31, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks in the Knesset on May 31, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In a bitter and fiery Knesset speech, Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Wednesday complained that Israel’s top court was skewed by “post-Zionist agendas,” accused the opposition of pursuing subversive policies, and savaged his political opponents for an impasse in negotiations on judicial reform. His predecessor, the National Unity party’s Gideon Sa’ar, said in response that Levin should “get hospitalized.”

Levin, who has spearheaded the coalition’s temporarily suspended bid to radically constrain the judiciary, was speaking on behalf of the government as it defeated an opposition proposal to formally insert the principle of equality into Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

“We all have a problem that post-Zionist agendas have entered the judicial system and the Supreme Court in particular, which are used for completely different things — to erase Zionism,” the justice minister claimed.

He attacked the opposition as “hypocritical” for trying to introduce changes to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty while constitutional changes are at the fore of national debate.

“We are not allowed to do anything, but you are allowed to promote a Basic Law that is at the core of the issues in dispute and at the core of what is being discussed at the President’s Residence” where negotiations are taking place between the coalition and the opposition, Levin charged from the Knesset rostrum while insisting the coalition doesn’t oppose the Basic Law.

Levin also implied that only the coalition was engaging in the ongoing compromise talks with good faith.

File: Gideon Sa’ar (right) and opposition leader Yair Lapid in the Knesset, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

In response, Sa’ar said from his Knesset seat that Levin should “get hospitalized.”

The equality proposal, put forward by Labor MK Gilad Kariv, was seen as largely symbolic and was expected to be defeated, but it highlights a broader political debate about the intersection of judicial activism and civil rights.

Equality is not guaranteed by statute in Israel, but rather was read into Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty by the Supreme Court. Lauded by civil rights groups, the longstanding decision has also been excoriated by far-right and religious members of the coalition who slam the court for using equality as a basis for invalidating pieces of legislation.

MK Gilad Kariv attends a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, February 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Levin told the opposition that it should “be embarrassed” for trying to advance the legislation amid the tense, ongoing judicial debate, and said that it was an example of the opposition acting as if “you are the landlords here, as if you won [the elections].”

The justice minister also implied that the coalition came to talks at the President’s Residence “with good intentions,” after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze the progress of the legislation two months ago — over Levin’s own objections.

Levin in recent days has reportedly lobbied ministers to resume his ambitious judicial program, saying that it is a unique opportunity to redraw the balance of powers.

His comments come just hours after President Isaac Herzog briefed reporters on the ongoing judicial reform talks while finishing up a state visit to Azerbaijan.

Acknowledging the yawning gap between the sides, while stressing he believes a deal is possible, Herzog said, “This is a long process and I don’t have a deadline.”

The president added that he’s “not naive” regarding the fact that the negotiations have yet to yield any breakthroughs, but said that the talks are currently focused on forging agreement on “essential principles” before getting into the nitty-gritty.

President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog board their flight to Baku, Azerbaijan, May 30, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO)

“I know what I am doing is the best for the State of Israel — to reach broad consensus and get out of this difficult strait that threatens to crumble us from within,” he said.

Following a slew of reports on progress toward the first negotiated breakthrough in two months of talks, Likud delegation member MK Keti Shitrit told Army Radio on Wednesday morning that a memorandum of understanding between the parties could be expected in the coming days.

Opposition parties have been adamant that they would not agree to a partial deal, and said shelving the remainder of the shakeup legislation was a precondition to any agreement.

National Unity party negotiating team member MK Chili Tropper confirmed this later to Army Radio, cautioning against expecting an interim agreement while the broader legislative package is still in play.

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