Likud MK: Government not fulfilling promises on cost of living, overhaul harming us

Knesset Economic Committee chair David Bitan says PM must take lead on overhaul compromise talks and if justice minister doesn’t like it, ‘the door is open’

Likud MK David Bitan, chair of the Knesset Economic Committee leads a meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK David Bitan, chair of the Knesset Economic Committee leads a meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Veteran Likud MK David Bitan on Saturday slammed his own government for neglecting the rising cost of living as it pursues its plans to overhaul the country’s judiciary, and urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a compromise on the reform.

With the overhaul having been paused last month for negotiations with the opposition, Bitan told Channel 12’s Meet the Press that the public is mainly concerned with the cost of living, and that the coalition is “not doing the job we need to be doing” based on its election promises.

As chair of the Knesset Economic Committee, Bitan lamented that there were no major solutions in state budget proposals.

Amid high inflation levels, Israeli consumers have felt the pinch of rising prices in nearly every consumer category.

The Agriculture Ministry announced Monday that price-controlled dairy items were going up by 16 percent from the beginning of May.

“Unfortunately, did you see one Likud MK who was concerned with the issue of the price of milk? Not one member of the faction tweeted about it,” Bitan said, adding lawmakers were instead still focusing on the fight over the legal shakeup.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, left, during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on April 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Pool)

The Knesset is set to convene for its summer session Sunday after a month-long recess. During that pause, coalition and opposition representatives have been meeting at the President’s Residence to discuss the possibility of a negotiated change to judicial power lines. No tangible progress has been reported to date.

A key overhaul bill that would put judicial appointments under political control has passed nearly all legislative stages and is ready to be passed within days if the coalition so desires.

Bitan urged the prime minister to pursue a compromise on the legislation, which he believed has seriously harmed the Likud’s standing with the public, citing recent opinion polls showing voters flocking to MK Benny Gantz’s National Unity.

“Netanyahu needs to show leadership. He needs to say: ‘There will only be a compromise reform.’

“Netanyahu is the leader of Likud, he needs to make decisions. And with all due respect, the justice minister [Yariv Levin] needs to stand with him,” he said, adding that “if Levin doesn’t like it, the door is open to different options.”

Levin staunchly defended his proposals and tore into the High Court during a mass rally in support of the overhaul on Thursday. Levin also expressed support for the compromise talks being led by President Isaac Herzog, while accusing opposition representatives of rejecting all offers.

Bitan said Levin’s introduction of the legislation within a week of the government being sworn was “a strategic error of the highest order.”

“It’s not the reform we want. It was done quickly because it was important to the Haredim,” Bitan added.

File: Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and other justices at a hearing of the High Court of Justice on petitions against the appointment of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as a minister due to his recent conviction for tax offenses, January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox parties have demanded an override clause, allowing the Knesset to strike down High Court decisions with a simple majority of 61 members, largely to prevent the court from striking down legislation to prevent the large-scale recruitment of Haredi youths to the military.

“We needed reforms to the state prosecution and the police. This is the biggest problem and it’s possible to take care of it slowly. Not within a week,” Bitan stated.

Bitan also criticized Netanyahu’s choice of Aviad Bakshi, head of the Kohelet Policy Forum’s legal department, as a Likud representative in talks. The institution was deeply involved in drawing up the coalition’s proposals.

“You send a message that you are uninterested in compromise when you send him to discussions,” he said.

Analysts and commentators believe the coalition will not advance any of the legislation until the passage of the state budget, which the ruling bloc must do by May 29 or face automatic elections.

Critics say the overhaul, which will shift much of the judiciary’s power into the government’s hands, will make Israel a democracy in name only, shielding leaders from accountability while leaving minority rights largely unprotected and subject to the whims of Netanyahu’s hard-right government. Proponents say the changes are needed to rein in what they see as an overly activist court.

Polls have consistently shown that the legislation is broadly unpopular in its current form, and that support for the government has dropped since the election.

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