Likud minister slams ‘hysterical’ Herzog speech calling for overhaul to be abandoned

Diaspora Minister Chikli says president succumbed to pressure, should be ‘more moderate’; Communications Minister Karhi says Herzog blatantly aligned with left on judicial overhaul

Likud MK Amichai Chikli speaks at the Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Likud MK Amichai Chikli speaks at the Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli said Sunday that President Isaac Herzog’s speech calling for the abandonment of the judicial reform was “hysterical” and implied that he was siding against the government.

“I respect the president very much, but his speech on Thursday was hysterical and did not contribute to calming things,” Chikli told Army Radio.

“Unfortunately, the pressures exerted on him are working. It would have been correct to express himself more moderately,” said the Likud lawmaker, who last week said the protests by IDF reservists were “a gift” to Iran and terror groups.

On Thursday, Herzog gave a televised address to the nation in which he called on the government to scrap its “oppressive” legislative proposals and instead hold a dialogue with opposition parties to reach a compromise.

Chikli’s comments came a day after Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi accused the president, who traditionally avoids wading into political issues, of being now firmly aligned with the opposition.

In a lengthy Twitter post on Saturday night, Karhi, also a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, vowed that the legislation, key parts of which are to be voted on in the Knesset this week, will go ahead.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Even the president of the country, who has already blatantly aligned himself with the left, will not be able to grant amnesty for the ‘root canal’ treatment that the legal system and law enforcement in Israel needs,” Karhi wrote.

“We are open to talk,” he added. “You can change a little, compromise a little, but on the main things — by no means.”

Karhi listed granting the Knesset the ability to override the High Court of Justice with a vote by 61 out of the 120 MKs and government control over the panel that selects judges among the elements that are not open for compromise.

“We will pass the first parts of the legal reform before the Knesset recess very soon, and we will bring Israel another step closer to true democracy,” he said. The current parliament session is set to end early next month.

Karhi also lashed out at protesters against the planned legislation, saying their leaders are working to create “anarchy in the streets” and accusing the media of being propaganda tools in the service of the opposition. He said those driving weekly mass protests against the changes are not really concerned about the reform but rather are rebelling against the government itself.

“After all, the organization of the demonstrations, the protests, the refusals, the big money, comes from people who are not interested in the reform at all,” he said. “They don’t like it that the right is in power, they don’t like the fact that we finally woke up to stop their total control of the media, academia, culture, law, and more.”

President Isaac Herzog gives a primetime speech pleading for compromise on the judicial overhaul plan, on March 9, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

On Thursday, Herzog denounced the judicial overhaul as harmful to democracy and called for it to be abandoned immediately and replaced by a framework for consensual reform.

In a special address to the nation, delivered in grave tones, the president said the national crisis over the coalition’s effort to weaken the judiciary was “a disaster” and “a nightmare.” He insisted it was the responsibility of “the leaders of the state” in the government to set aside the breakneck legislative charge lest the country descend into a societal and constitutional abyss.

Herzog’s forceful speech marked the first time he openly spoken out against one political bloc during the current crisis, and, like the Knesset opposition parties, unambiguously opposed the government’s bills as anti-democratic.

During his speech, the president announced that in his discussions with representatives on both sides of the political divide he has managed to create a formula for agreement on the majority of the major disputes at the heart of the crisis, and said this outline should be passed to the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee for debate in place of the government’s current, fast-advancing legislation.

But Herzog added that the opposition as well as the coalition needed to put the country above politics in order to prevent Israel from “falling off the edge of a cliff.”

Demonstrators attend a protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul legislation, March 11, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch, and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

Advocates of the changes, including Justice Minister Yariv Levin, argue that it will stop the undue influence of the judiciary over the Knesset and the will of the majority.

Karhi, an outspoken supporter of the overhaul, last week caused outrage when he said that Israeli reserve soldiers threatening to not report for duty in protest over the judicial overhaul push can “go to hell.”

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