Likud’s Edelstein backs pausing judicial overhaul, says other MKs feel the same

Former Knesset speaker won’t say whether he would vote for it, pushes to try talks based on Herzog outline; Bitan says he doesn’t believe government will last full term

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein at a conference hosted by Channel 13 in Jerusalem on July 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein at a conference hosted by Channel 13 in Jerusalem on July 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A veteran Likud lawmaker called Saturday for the government to suspend its campaign to pass a controversial package of far-reaching changes to the judiciary. in order to give an opportunity for talks with the opposition aimed at softening the plan to succeed. And he said other coalition MKs also support pausing for talks.

Edelstein, a former Knesset speaker and one-time close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, refused to commit to backing the sweeping overhaul in its current form.

“We have the opportunity to halt the legislative process for a limited period,” Edelstein told Channel 12 news Saturday night. “When you want to come and be adults and not like little kids in a kindergarten, then it’s definitely possible to get to a [joint] draft.”

Edelstein’s comments came days after he said the government should enter negotiations on the judicial overhaul based on proposals laid out by President Isaac Herzog.

The Likud MK noted that pausing the legislation temporarily would put an end to an opposition demand that the government suspend the push for at least 60 days.

“If they meet for a few days, and they become convinced that the opposition is merely trying to play for time and opposes all changes, and that it sees the entire judicial system as sacred, then we can get the legislation back on track,” he said.

“If not, we can talk and come to agreement on changes that will be able to stand up,” he added.

A one-time rising star within the party, Edelstein has largely been sidelined by Netanyahu since announcing plans — later shelved — to challenge the premier for the leadership of Likud.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (seated) with Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Like other moderate conservatives in Israel, Edelstein said he supported changes to the judicial system but wanted to make alterations by consensus rather than fiat.

Asked by Channel 12 whether he will vote for the overhaul if there is no effort at dialogue with the opposition, Edelstein refused to directly answer the question, saying he did not want to be drawn into an ultimatum.

The Netanyahu coalition is pushing a dramatic judicial restructuring that would increase government control over the judiciary. 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.

The proposals have generated intense opposition from numerous quarters of society and led to steadily intensifying mass demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other major cities.

On Saturday night, some 160,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv and tens of thousands rallied elsewhere against the proposals, which critics say will transform Israel into an illiberal quasi-democracy in the style of Hungary or Turkey.

Israelis wave a placard as they protest against the government’s controversial justice overhaul plans in Tel Aviv on March 4, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Supporters of the overhaul say the changes will end overreach by courts and judicial institutions, which have blocked right-wing efforts to pass measures seen as violating rights enshrined in Israel’s Basic Laws.

While the coalition has widely backed the judicial overhaul in public, some have expressed misgivings with the plan given its radical nature and a vociferous backlash at home and abroad.

According to Edelstein, other Knesset members in the coalition back the idea of halting the legislative push for a time in order to negotiate a possible compromise.

“I’ve spoken with a number of MKs and several think like me,” he told Army Radio on Sunday.

David Bitan, another Likud MK, said Saturday that if compromise talks do not end up happening, Likud will be forced to soften the proposals itself. Speaking to Kan news, the former coalition whip also predicted that the government would fall apart before the next elections, due to power struggles among what he described as a “homogeneous” coalition fighting for support among a single ideological constituency.

Likud MK David Bitan, chair of the Knesset Economic Committee (right) and Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi at a meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, on January 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While both Netanyahu’s coalition and the opposition claim to support compromise talks, they have yet to materialize, with the coalition saying that it refuses to accede to a demand that it first commit to freezing the legislation for two months.

Herzog has proposed a five-point outline for negotiations between the sides which would aim at passing reforms that address right-wing complaints about the courts without stripping the judiciary of any ability to act as a check on government power.

Edelstein announced last week that he supported negotiations based on Herzog’s plan. He told Channel 12 news that he was hoping more lawmakers would line up behind compromise talks.

“We are trying to do the right thing, looking for common ground,” he said. “I have broad shoulders to take this on, and hope there will be others, from both sides. If we don’t get to a compromise, we’ll get to some very bad places.”

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