Likud MK: Barak would be hanged ‘in other countries’ for civil disobedience calls

MK Nissim Vaturi says former PM should face jail term of ‘at least 20 years’ after urging ‘civil uprising’ at Saturday anti-government demonstration

This composite image shows Likud MK Nissim Vaturi, left, speaking at a Knesset committee meeting in Jerusalem, on December 6, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90); and former PM Ehud Barak at a protest against the planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, February 25, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)
This composite image shows Likud MK Nissim Vaturi, left, speaking at a Knesset committee meeting in Jerusalem, on December 6, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90); and former PM Ehud Barak at a protest against the planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, February 25, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90)

A Likud lawmaker suggested on Sunday that “in other countries,” former prime minister Ehud Barak would be executed for his fierce criticism of the government’s judicial overhaul efforts and his calls for civil disobedience, but in democratic Israel, he should just go to prison for “at least 20 years.”

Likud MK Nissim Vaturi, the deputy Knesset speaker, attacked Barak for his most comments at a weekly mass demonstration against the judicial revamp, now in their 23rd week. The former premier, defense minister, and IDF chief of staff called on Saturday night for a nonviolent civil uprising against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government if it pursues its contentious plans to remake the judiciary, bring most judicial appointments under political control, and restrict the independent powers of the High Court of Justice.

The judicial overhaul legislation has been frozen since late March, when Netanyahu said he would halt the plans to allow for talks with the opposition, aimed at finding a broadly accepted compromise on judicial reform. But months of talks have not produced a breakthrough, and pressure has increased within the coalition to resume the legislative push.

Speaking in Haifa on Saturday night, Barak said protesters were “determined and we will save democracy” by intensifying protests and moving “into a civil uprising; nonviolent civil disobedience.”

“We haven’t won the battle yet. This is not the time for a time out. We must not fall into illusions. We must intensify the protest and end the negotiations immediately,” Barak said, referring to the ongoing coalition-opposition compromise talks under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog.

Vaturi said that “in other countries, such a person would be up for hanging, but Israel is a democratic country so a prison term of at least 20 years.”

Israelis hold up national flags and placards as they protest the hard-right government’s controversial judicial reform plans, in Tel Aviv on June 10, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The Likud lawmaker later called Barak “human waste” and said he should have been jailed long ago. In a tweet, he further attacked Barak for his previously reported ties to the late disgraced financier and child sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein.

“When he met 30 times with a pedophile in a place where dozens of minors were harmed, he thought he was not being seen. Now he openly calls for civil war, a coup d’état and violence. Human waste like him should have been behind bars a long time ago,” Vaturi tweeted.

Barak’s ties to Epstein became an unexpected hot-button issue in the 2019 election campaign in Israel, after the latter was arrested and later died in prison of an apparent suicide under mysterious circumstances. Barak has maintained that he had no knowledge of Epstein’s activities.

Separately on Sunday, Vaturi withdrew his candidacy for the Judicial Selection Committee “for the benefit of two representatives from the coalition.”

On Wednesday, the Knesset will vote to appoint two lawmakers to the nine-member panel, which is chaired by Justice Minister Yariv Levin of Likud. The coalition has threatened to take both of the spots reserved for lawmakers, breaking with tradition. Opposition leaders have said that if the coalition does so, it will signal the end of the compromise talks.

The makeup of the judicial selection panel is central to the coalition’s ongoing efforts to greatly increase political control over the judiciary. A key bill in the overhaul plan would reshape the committee and hand the government an automatic majority, giving it the power to determine most judicial appointments.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 11, 2023. (Menahem Kahana/Pool/AFP)

That bill is on the cusp of being passed into law, and can be brought for its final, back-to-back votes in the Knesset plenum at a moment’s notice. However, such action is almost sure to lead to a resumption of intense public opposition, as was seen before the legislation was frozen.

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

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