Lapid: He's saying the talks with the president are a fraud

Levin vows to pass overhaul when Knesset resumes, amplifying doubts over dialogue

Justice minister says nationwide rallies will be organized ‘to show what the majority of the public wants,’ and bills will pass after Passover, even as Netanyahu talks of consensus

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin said Wednesday he would resume efforts to pass the hard-right coalition’s judicial overhaul after the Knesset’s upcoming Passover recess, sparking claims that talks aimed at reaching a broad consensus on the now-frozen legislation were being used as a fig leaf.

In a WhatsApp message to a supporter, Levin vowed to make “a supreme effort” to ensure the legislation’s passage during the forthcoming summer session, a pledge that appeared at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated commitment to dialogue as he paused the legislation earlier this week amid mass protests and strikes.

“We’ll organize demonstrations across Israel to show what the majority of the public wants,” the justice minister wrote.

Netanyahu announced he was suspending the legislation Monday as opposition to the judicial overhaul intensified following his firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had called for a halt to allow for talks. The premier indicated the “time-out”  would last until the Knesset’s next session begins April 30, meaning the pause will mostly take place when the Knesset would be in recess anyway.

Levin, a leading architect of the far-reaching plans to change the judiciary, also appeared to take a shot at Likud members such as Gallant and others who called for a halt.

“Let’s hope that those who harmed us from within will cease doing that,” he said.

In response, opposition leader Yair Lapid called for Netanyahu to declare that Levin’s remarks do not reflect his own views.

“The justice minister is saying that the negotiations at the President’s Residence are a fraud,” Lapid tweeted, referring to talks held Tuesday.

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman similarly charged that Netanyahu and his political allies were engaged in “a scam.”

Levin later hit back at Lapid, claiming he was spreading “fake news,” while still affirming he would seek to speed the legislation through Knesset in the next session.

“We must refrain from the foot-dragging and complete the legislation,” he said in a statement. “I’m hopeful that the legislation brought forward will have broad consensus and that the dialogue succeeds.”

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid during a discussion and a vote on the Hametz Law, in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tensions around the shakeup have eased considerably since the announcement of the legislative halt on Monday, but the issue remains a ticking time bomb domestically as well as in the diplomatic arena. On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden spoke out against the reform for the first time, calling on Netanyahu to reverse course. The Israeli premier swiftly rejected the remarks as meddling in Israel’s affairs and on Wednesday dismissed concerns over the planned overhaul while addressing the US State Department’s Summit for Democracy.

“Democracy means the will of the people as expressed by a majority and it also means protection of civil rights, individual rights. It’s the balance between the two,” Netanyahu said. “I think that balance can be achieved. And that’s why I’ve promoted a pause that now enables both the opposition and the coalition to sit down and try to achieve a broad national consensus to achieve both goals.”

Talks aimed at reaching a consensus opened on Tuesday with delegations representing Netanyahu’s Likud and the opposition Yesh Atid and National Unity parties hosted by President Isaac Herzog. On Wednesday, the Labor party sent its own negotiating team after initially expressing doubts whether Likud was seeking to negotiate in good faith.

“We came to make sure, from the inside, that the judicial overthrow laws do not come back to the Knesset through the back door,” the party said in a statement.

Judicial officials are also reportedly wary that the talks are a ruse meant to defuse public opposition to the changes.

Officials quoted by the Ynet news site noted that one of most contentious bills in the overhaul, which would give the coalition likely-complete control over judicial appointments, was submitted Tuesday by the coalition for its final vote, allowing it to be brought for approval at any later date with 24 hours’ notice.

“The coalition was forced to freeze the legislation for the moment… but it’s ready to be whipped out at a moment’s notice,” one of the officials said.

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir at a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Underscoring that concern, Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, reported Wednesday that Netanyahu told far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir that the judicial selection bill will be approved in the first week of the summer Knesset session, assuming that talks between coalition and opposition figures fail to yield an agreement.

The report noted that according to Ben Gvir, Netanyahu agreed that no changes would be made to the bill.

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