The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s news as it unfolded.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrates the coalition’s success passing the first bills in its judicial overhaul in their first Knesset reading. The bills need to return to committee for revisions, then go through two more Knesset readings before becoming law.
Passing the bills in their first reading marks a major milestone in the coalition’s contentious plan to subvert the judiciary to the governing coalition.
“A great night and a great day,” Netanyahu says on Twitter.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid says, “Coalition members — history will judge you for tonight. For the damage to democracy, for the damage to the economy, for the damage to security, for you tearing apart the nation of Israel and that you just don’t care.”
National Unity party chief Benny Gantz, a key figure in the opposition, says, “A black night for democracy. Tomorrow morning we continue the struggle.”
Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich tweets a picture of his party members holding campaign posters that say “law and justice.”
“What you vote for is what you get,” Smotrich says.
Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir says “the majority is happy.”
Justice Minister Yariv Levin says he “commits” to engage in dialogue about the judicial overhaul, but that “nothing will dissuade me from doing the right thing, and executing a reform to the judicial system.”
“I pledge to each and every citizen of Israel that I will never refrain from making every effort to reach dialogue and understandings,” he says.
The opposition has demanded the coalition halt the bill’s progress during negotiations, but the government has refused, nixing any potential talks.
Levin says Opposition Leader Lapid and National Unity party leader Gantz are the ones who have to “lead” this discussion and not leave it to protesters.
“Come, let’s sit. I believe we can come to understandings,” Levin says, amid interruptions from furious opposition lawmakers.
“I think that it’s our responsibility to speak, I think it’s our responsibilty to try. I don’t think we achieve anythign with violence or by setting conditions.”
Levin defends the bills to give the government control over choosing judges as rebalancing power in society.
“I say to the citizens of Israel – we will bring into the Supreme Court those who are not part of this aristocratic family. It will have room for everyone. From this side, and from the other side.”
He claims past justice ministers would have supported the judicial overhaul and that it will boost pluralism and “bring justices from every corner of the nation.”
Both bills in the coalition’s initial tranche of judicial reforms, which together will put government control over judicial appointments and block courts from reviewing Basic Laws, have been approved in their first plenum readings.
The two bills, the latter of which deals with the method of appointing the lone opposition lawmaker allotted to Israel’s Judicial Selection Committee, passes across clear coalition lines. Both bills pass by a vote of 63-47.
The debate and vote on the two bills last for close to seven hours.
Both will now return to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee for debate, in anticipation of their second and third readings, which they must clear to become law.
The first bill in the government’s contentious plan to rebalance power away from the judiciary and toward political ranks clears the first of its three readings in the Knesset plenum.
The bill passes by a vote of 63-47.
Opposition lawmakers chant “shame!” as the coalition votes the bill through the Knesset. A number of the bill’s opponents are ejected from the plenum during the vote.
Paired in a back-to-back vote with a related bill, this first bill will amend the Basic Law: The Judiciary to cement government control over judicial appointments and revoke the court’s ability to review Basic Laws.
Held hours after 40,000 protesters gathered outside the Knesset, the nearly seven-hour debate started with protests by opposition MKs and anti-government demonstrators, but ultimately was sparsely attended by lawmakers.
Speaking shortly before the vote, Justice Minister Yariv Levin says that the legislation is part of a process to correct historical wrongs.
A longtime ideological advocate of constraining the Supreme Court’s power, Levin says that sections of Israeli society were “trampled” and “disrespected” by the Supreme Court.
Addressing the Knesset floor, Levin says that through this legislation, “masses of citizens are raising their voice, voices which have not been heard for decades by the justice system, which was blind to their needs, which neglected them.”
The justice minister continues that the court “disrespected them, that was closed to them” and “this evening, I stand here in determination and great pride, to make their voices heard and to promise that onwards, their voices will be heard.”
Levin also says the reform will rebalance power toward the Knesset, after the court expanded its purview three decades earlier.”
The Yisrael Beytenu party boycotted the vote.
“Regarding what will happen today, we, as Yisrael Beiteinu, will boycott the vote and leave the hall. The very fact of voting, even voting ‘against,’ is legitimizing a series of laws that contradict the Declaration of Independence, and because a series of laws contradict the Declaration of Independence, I call on President Herzog not to sign them. Any law that contradicts the Declaration of Independence, I expect the President will not sign it,” said party leader Avigdor Liberman.
In a passage of his speech shortly before the Knesset votes on legislation he has piloted through his Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the coalition’s Simcha Rothman departs from the Hebrew norm and briefly speaks in English to those who care about Israel around the world:
“I beg you, my friends and our friends from around the world, don’t read the news, read the law,” he begins.
“This law is very simple — it says that the Knesset can act as a sovereign and make Basic Laws and the court cannot cancel them. And it says that the Israeli people, the Jewish people in their homeland, will have the ability to choose their judges like any other free country in the world.
“We want to be a democracy like any other democracy in the world, where the people can choose and elect their judges.”
Rothman concludes his English remarks: “Don’t believe the lies. Read the bill.”
Speaking shortly before the Knesset is set to vote on his ambitious plan to move judicial appointments into government control and block the Supreme Court from reviewing Basic Laws, Justice Minister Yariv Levin says that the legislation is part of a process to correct historic wrongs.
A longtime ideological advocate of constraining the Supreme Court’s power, Levin says that sections of Israeli society were “trampled” and “disrespected” by the Supreme Court.
Addressing the Knesset floor, Levin says that through this legislation, “masses of citizens are raising their voice, voices that have not been heard for decades by the justice system, which was blind to their needs, which neglected them.”
The justice minister says the court had “disrespected them,” and “this evening, I stand here in determination and great pride, to make their voices heard and to promise that, from here on out, their voices will be heard.”
Levin also says the reform will rebalance power toward the Knesset, after the court expanded its purview three decades earlier.
“In the biased media, they speak about a judicial revolution,” says Levin. “I want to tell the citizens of Israel the truth. There really was a judicial revolution.” But this, he argues, was led by former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who in the 1990s expanded the court’s powers to review laws against Basic Laws, elevating them to a quasi-constitutional status.
“I hear the false claims about the end of democracy… and I tell you that what we’re doing is bringing back democracy,” Levin says.
Amid much public pressure to engage in dialogue with the opposition over the content of the reforms before they come for their second and third, final, readings, Levin says he “extends a hand” across the Knesset aisle and suggests discussion, without pre-conditions. Both opposition leaders and President Isaac Herzog have said pausing the legislative process is needed to enable proper discussion.
Despite expressing a willingness to engage in dialogue with the opposition in the event that the first reading of the government’s judicial shakeup plan passes later this evening, as it is expected to do, Justice Minister Yariv Levin confirms that he hopes to wrap up the “first phase” by Knesset’s April break.
Levin says he wants to pass “the first phase by the end of the seating,” in under six weeks, “and then the second phase” afterwards, in a spontaneous response to a Yisrael Beytenu MK speaking on the Knesset floor
Opposition Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak invokes the rise of the Nazis during a Knesset plenum debate on legislation that the government is pushing to shift powers from the courts to politicians.
“This is worse than all the regimes that we don’t want to be like,” Ben Barak says. “Not the Turks, Hungarians or Poles, and yes, I will say from this podium, Nazi Germany. They rose to power democratically.”
The statement is denounced by coalition members, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying it shows the opposition “has gone off the rails.”
LONDON — Britain’s government says it has summoned Iran’s top diplomat in the UK after journalists based in the country were targeted for intimidation by Tehran.
The Foreign Office says its Middle East director Vijay Rangarajan met with Iranian Chargé d’Affaires Mehdi Hosseini Matin to “make clear the UK will not tolerate threats to life and media freedom.”
“I am appalled by the Iranian regime’s continuing threats to the lives of UK-based journalists and have today summoned its representative to make clear this will not be tolerated,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly says in a statement.
On Saturday, Iran International, a Farsi-language TV news channel based in London, said it had moved its broadcasts to Washington to protect its journalists, after British police told it about “serious and immediate threats” to the safety of Iranian journalists.
Iran International said “threats had grown to the point that it was felt it was no longer possible to protect the channel’s staff” or the public around its studio in London.
The Metropolitan Police said authorities had foiled “15 plots since the start of 2022 to either kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime,” without elaborating.
The BBC has separately filed a complaint to the United Nations saying there were increased security concerns for journalists working for its Persian service “in light of extraterritorial threats.”
The Foreign Office also says today that it is imposing new sanctions against Iranian officials for human rights violations. Those sanctioned include three senior judges for imposing death penalties on protesters, and five commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Britain has imposed sanctions on more than 50 Iranian individuals and entities since September, when the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the Islamic Republic’s morality police triggered a wave of protests and a violent crackdown by Tehran.
Likud MK and prospective future minister in the Justice Ministry David Amsalem says the current fight over judicial reform is really about inter-Jewish ethnic divisions.
Speaking on the Knesset floor shortly before the first volley of bills come up for initial votes, Amsalem says that the political debate “is not about this law or another. It’s that for 75 years” Mizrahi Jews have had less power than Ashkenazi Jews.
“That’s the debate,” adds Amsalem.
Before his phone call with Justice Minister Yair Levin, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Channel 12 news.
The network says Bar presented Netanyahu with the Shin Bet’s assessment that “the atmosphere is heating up,” and told the premier he intended to speak with Levin.
The Kan public broadcaster reports that Bar also spoke recently with President Isaac Herzog as part of his efforts to tamp down the simmering divisions over the government’s plans to weaken the judiciary.
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi is at the Knesset with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to warn Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against transferring some of latter’s powers to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism, is also a minister in the Defense Ministry. As part of Religious Zionism’s coalition deal with Likud, is slated to be given authority over the military-run bodies handling civil affairs in the West Bank and coordination with the Palestinians, which are currently under Gallant’s purview.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid slams Smotrich for not attending the meeting with Halevi and Netanyahu, charging that Israel is “being held capture by fanatical extremists.”
Explaining his absence, Smotrich says he doesn’t want to involve the IDF with politics and that the transfer of powers will be settled this evening.
“Right now, the chief of staff is bringing his professional view before the prime minister,” he says in a statement. “Immediately afterwards, a political meeting will be held at which the matter will be decided.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office condemns a statement backed by the UN Security Council that called Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank an “impediment” to peace with the Palestinians.
“The UN Security Council issued a one-sided statement that denies the rights of Jews to live in our historic homeland and ignores the Palestinian terror attacks in Jerusalem over the past month in which 10 Israeli civilians were murdered. [The statement] turns a blind eye to the fact that the Palestinian Authority subsidizes terrorism and pays the families of terrorists, and dwarfs the antisemitism that led to the murder of millions Jews,” the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says.
It adds: “The statement should not have been made and the United States should not have joined it.
Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron defends the decision to raise the interest rate for an eighth straight meeting.
“The interest rate takes a while to influence the economy,” Yaron tells Channel 12 news, when asked if his policies weren’t working, in light of continued inflation.
“It’s very important to understand, our main role is price stability. Without stable prices, there is no thriving, prosperous and stable economy here,” he says, while acknowledging “the pain” Israelis with rising mortgage payments feel.
In a separate interview with the Kan public broadcaster, Yaron says an independent Bank of Israel is “crucial” to Israel’s economy, after Foreign Minister Eli Cohen slammed the latest interest rate rise.
He is also asked about the government’s push to radically transform Israel’s judicial system, given warnings that the efforts could hurt Israel’s economy and credit rating.
“We know, and there is a lot of research in the economic world that shows that the independence and strength of institutions are crucial components in economic development and prosperity,” he says.
Noting that international finance institutions are looking into the potential economic impact of the proposed changes to the judiciary, he adds, “It’s really important to safeguard these characteristics, the independence and strength of these institutions, in any move that is advanced.”
Residents in communities across Israel say they felt tremors, as a 6.4 magnitude earthquake along the Syrian-Turkish border is reported.
The Geological Institute confirms an earthquake was felt in Israel shortly after 7 p.m.
Turkey’s disaster response agency AFAD says the quake was recorded Monday in the southern province of Hatay, the hardest hit by a February 6 tremor which left more than 41,000 dead in the country.
The quake hit the town of Defne and was strongly felt by AFP teams in Antakya and Adana, 200 kilometers (300 miles) to the north.
BERLIN — The director of “Golda” dismisses a controversy over casting Helen Mirren as Israel’s only woman prime minister Golda Meir, saying the British Oscar winner had “Jewish chops.”
Israel’s Guy Nattiv tells reporters at the Berlin film festival ahead of the movie’s world premiere that it took only one conversation with Mirren to convince him she was “authentic” enough to play the iconic political leader.
“When I met Helen, I felt like I’m meeting a family member,” he says, saying he had been “surprised” by the uproar.
“She’s got the Jewish chops to portray Golda. She totally got everything, every nook and cranny, everything in this character. Other than the fact that I adore Helen, I think she’s one of the best actresses in the world.”
Fellow British actor Maureen Lipman touched off the dispute when she told the Jewish Chronicle last year that she doubted the choice of Mirren, who is not Jewish, because she considered Meir’s religion to be “integral” to her character.
The Knesset has opened floor debate on the coalition’s first judicial shakeup bill, which is expected to advance past its first of three readings this evening, as tens of thousands of anti-reform protesters gather outside the parliament building.
Sponsored by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the bill proposes to put judicial appointments under government control, as well as block the Supreme Court from exercising oversight over Basic Laws, including the proposed legislation itself.
Although it is only the first of several planned measures, today’s vote could be a turning point in political discourse over the government’s efforts to upend the judicial system. The bill’s coalition backers, primarily Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Constitution Committee chair Simcha Rothman, said they would engage in “dialogue” with the opposition once it cleared its first floor vote.
President Isaac Herzog last week called for the coalition to halt its progress to enable discussion, and opposition leaders continue to say they will not engage until the legislation is paused.
Earlier today, Rothman’s committee continued to press ahead with the coalition’s next bill, which would create preemptive immunity for certain laws, blocking the Supreme Court from reviewing them.
As the Knesset plenum begins deliberations on a bill at the heart of the government’s judicial overhaul plans ahead of a first vote, numerous opposition lawmakers raise Israeli flags in protest.
Parliamentary ushers confiscate the flags and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana orders the removal of several MKs.
In addition to the lawmakers, a number of observers in the viewer’s gallery walk up to its glass dividers, banging loudly until removed.
Earlier, MKs were told by security that they must have their bags searched before entering the plenum, prompting objections from lawmakers, though most appeared to walk in without being checked.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen criticizes the Bank of Israel’s decision to further raise its key lending rate, bringing it to the highest level since 2008 amid rising inflationary pressures and a weakening currency.
“I asked my friend, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, to put together a plan with the Bank of Israel governor to stop interest rate rises,” Cohen, a member of the ruling Likud party, writes on Twitter.
Arguing that inflation is moderating, Cohen charges “there was no justification for raising the interest rate today,” which he says will lead to further “abuse” of Israelis with mortgages.
UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council expresses its “dismay” with plans by Israel’s hard-right government to retroactively legalize outposts in the West Bank, warning in a statement that such measures “impede peace.”
“The Security Council reiterates that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution,” the council says in a statement supported by all 15 members but which does not have the binding force of a resolution considered last week.
Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar has asked to speak with opposition leader Yair Lapid due to growing incitement and threats on his life, according to the Ynet news site.
BRUSSELS — The European Union imposes asset freezes and visa bans on Iran’s education and culture ministers, in a fifth round of sanctions against Tehran over its crackdown on demonstrators.
The new measures target 32 individuals and two entities, and are largely aimed at lawmakers, judiciary officials and prison authorities accused of involvement in the repression, according to the EU’s official journal.
Iran was rocked by months of nationwide protests last year after the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September following her arrest for an alleged breach of the dress code.
Iran has arrested at least 14,000 people in the wave of protests, according to the United Nations.
Iranian authorities have executed four people for their role in the unrest and imposed the death penalty on a total of 18, triggering widespread international outrage.
The latest round of sanctions from the EU includes Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili for persecuting artists and filmmakers who did not support the government.
Education Minister Yousef Nouri is added to the blacklist for the targeting and detention of school pupils engaged in the protests.
Judges, prosecutors and senior prison officials are also included in the new sanctions over their involvement in alleged abuses.
The EU had already imposed sanctions on more than 70 Iranian officials and entities over the crackdown on protesters, including the “morality police,” Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders and state media.
But the 27-nation bloc has so far stopped short of blacklisting the Revolutionary Guards themselves as a terror group, despite calls from Germany and the Netherlands to do so.
The demonstrators rallying outside the Knesset are now holding a march in the area.
Hebrew media outlets estimate 40,000-60,000 people took part in the protest.
Amid deepening political tensions over the government’s far-reaching plans to change the judicial system, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Yair Lapid are due to meet this evening for a routine security briefing.
An official in Lapid’s office says the meeting will only deal with security matters, reiterating “there isn’t and won’t be dialogue until all the legislative processes are stopped.”
Ahead of the meeting with Netanyahu, Lapid is holding talks with National Unity leader Benny Gantz, the Ynet news site says.
The Bank of Israel increases the benchmark interest rate for the eighth straight meeting, raising its key lending rate by 50 basis points to 4.25%, the highest level since 2008, as the central bank battles rising inflation pressure and a weakening shekel.
The move comes after inflation unexpectedly quickened in January amid robust economic growth and uncertainty over the repercussions of the proposed changes to Israel’s legal system led to a weakening of the shekel. The local currency has weakened about 3 percent against the dollar so far in February.
“The Israeli economy is recording strong economic activity, accompanied by a tight labor market and an increase in the inflation environment,” the central bank says in the rate decision statement. “The Committee has therefore decided to continue the process of increasing the interest rate.”
“Since the previous policy decision, exchange rates have been characterized by considerable volatility — in the beginning of the intermeeting period the shekel strengthened, and later on the trend changed and the shekel depreciated by approximately 5% in the last month,” it adds.
Economists at Bank Hapoalim, Israel Discount Bank, and Leader Capital Markets are among forecasters who expected a hike of 0.5% and estimate that borrowing costs will need to remain above 4% throughout the year as inflation pressures are rising.
The Bank of Israel has steadily raised its benchmark interest rate to 4.25% from a low of 0.1% last April in a bid to rein in inflation and bring it back into the government’s target range of between 1% to 3%.
A dead fin whale washes up on a closed military zone near Zikim Beach along Israel’s southern Mediterranean coast.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is gathering samples to determine the cause of death.
A spokeswoman says this species is common in the western Mediterranean, but is rare in the sea off Israel.
A dead juvenile fin whale last washed ashore in February 2021.
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates and Israel reveal their first jointly created unmanned vessel, illustrating their growing military ties as maritime threats rise in the Gulf region.
The craft, which has advanced sensors and imaging systems and can be used for surveillance, reconnaissance and detecting mines, is unveiled off the coast of Abu Dhabi during the Naval Defence and Maritime Security Exhibition (NAVDEX).
The unmanned surface vessel or USV was created by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Emirati defense consortium EDGE.
The busy Gulf shipping lanes have suffered years of missile and drone attacks blamed on neighbor Iran.
“We are for the first time demonstrating a mutual project that shows the capabilities and strengths of both companies” in securing coastlines and countering mine threats, says Oren Guter, who leads IAI’s naval program.
Guter, a former captain in the Israeli navy, says the vessels will counter “threats here in the area” but that the aim is also to deploy them abroad.
IAI was looking to bolster cooperation with the UAE in air defense and hopes to help the wealthy Gulf state improve its naval capabilities, he says.
The UAE and Israel have steadily deepened their military partnership, including defense procurement, since they normalized relations in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords.
Former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz tells the protest that the goal of the current “battle” against the government’s judicial overhaul program is to maintain “a strong, independent judiciary.”
“The government is declaring war against the character and values of the State of Israel,” says Halutz, “we won’t let this happen.”
“We won’t give in to those who didn’t wear on their bodies IDF uniforms,” the former military chief says, referring to several religious coalition members pushing the reforms who never served in the military.
Saying that this a fight between “the people,” a coalition of “corrupt” politicians and “messianic MKs from the factory of Kohelet,” a right-wing think tank tied to drafting the reforms, Halutz says that “we won’t let the darkness descend upon us.”
Rallying against the coalition’s intention to increase political power at the expense of the Supreme Court, LGBTQ community leader Hila Pe’er says that she will “not be shut up.”
“They really think that we’ll be quiet when they’re trying to destroy the only body that protects us?,” says Pe’er.
“The year is 2023 and we’re not going anywhere but forward, and that scares them,” she adds, leading the crowd in chants of “democracy!”
Netanyahu rails at ‘thuggish behavior’ of protesters, insists he’s open to dialogue, but says today’s votes will go ahead as planned
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounces the actions of demonstrators and leaders of the protest movement against the coalition’s radical legal reform program, but says agreement can be reached on the government’s judicial overhaul package with the opposition and calls on its leaders to enter into dialogue.
First, though, he stresses, the first reading in the Knesset on parts of the legislation, including giving the coalition a majority on the panel that chooses Israel’s judges, will go ahead as scheduled later today. (Legislation needs three Knesset readings to become law.)
“We all said six weeks ago there is room for dialogue, but there is no place for thuggish behavior,” says Netanyahu at the beginning of a Likud faction meeting.
“Opposition leaders, start talking, there is still time to speak. We can still reduce the gaps and come to agreements,” continues the prime minister.
Netanyahu condemns protest leaders for “threatening us with civil war and blood in the streets.” The leaders of the protests “are destroying democracy. They don’t accept the results of the elections. They don’t accept the majority’s decision. They don’t condemn calls to murder the prime minister and his family. They don’t condemn calls to harm and murder members of Knesset,” he says.
And he deplores the actions of some demonstrators this morning who blocked Likud MK Tally Gotliv from leaving her home to go to vote in the Knesset, as well as preventing her from taking her special-needs daughter to school. “They reached a new low this morning,” he says.
“These are the thugs who are preaching ethics to us, who speak about human values when they are trampling those values into the ground,” fumes Netanyahu. “I thank those in the opposition who condemned this behavior, and those who didn’t, you should be ashamed of yourselves… you have gone completely off the rails.”
He then turns to the attorney general’s warning that he is not allowed to handle the judicial overhaul because of his conflict of interest arrangement. “I’m told: Not only can’t you deal with the reform, but you can’t speak about it,” he says bitterly. “You were elected but you can’t speak on behalf of the electorate. How am I supposed to represent them? Telepathically?”
Nonetheless, he says, “There is room for dialogue; not for thuggery.”
He says many leaders of the opposition agree with this approach but are scared to say so. “Be leaders,” he says.
President Isaac Herzog offered compromise proposals last week and urged that the legislation be paused to enable dialogue, and that today’s first readings of some of the legislation not go ahead. Opposition leader Yair Lapid called for a 60-day halt to the progress of the legislation. Coalition leaders endorsed the idea of dialogue but refused to halt the legislative process.
Netanyahu says “there is more than enough time to talk and a genuine desire… to close gaps and reach agreements.”
But he stresses that today’s votes on the first readings of some of the overhaul will go ahead as planned.
“So, today there will be votes, and tomorrow I hope the path will be opened to dialogue.”
One thing won’t change, he concludes: “The people made its electoral choices and the representatives of the people will exercise their right to vote here in the Knesset. That’s called democracy.”
Legal scholar Yaniv Roznai tells The Times of Israel that approval of the government’s judicial shakeup plan will be like legislating a “constitutional ticking bomb,” shortly before addressing tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside the Knesset.
“This is not how to build a constitution. Who stands after it says it’s about democracy, public trust, governance, checks and balances. But this reform will destroy all of those,” says Roznai.
“Don’t legislate this constitutional ticking bomb,” adds the academic.
Speaking to the demonstrators, former Likud justice minister Dan Meridor says the Likud party has changed.
“I want to turn to people of the Likud – where are you?,” says Meridor, attacking the government’s judicial reform program and what he says is its support for Kahanism.
“This will be the grave of Menachem Begin’s Likud. Stop before the last moment,” he adds.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid warns Israel will take its first steps toward becoming an undemocratic state if the first part of the government’s radical legal overhaul program is approved later today.
“The government is bringing to a vote two laws to annul democracy in Israel. Every effort to bring about dialogue, that of the President [Isaac] Herzog, the opposition, civil society, even the Americans, has been met with total refusal,” continues Lapid, branding calls by government officials for dialogue “lies.”
Lapid, who speaks at a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party, calls Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman — the architects of the legal reforms — “unparalleled extremists” who he says are leading the country to “economic calamity, security calamity, and a calamity for the unity of the Jewish people.”
Lapid says the popular protest movement will prevail, and that the government “cannot ignore it.”
“We will continue to work across all fronts, here in the Knesset, in the streets, in the courts… we are working for the future of our children, for the future of our country and we do not intend to give up,” he adds.
National Unity leader Benny Gantz says the likely passage of legislation to give the government control over the selection of judges in its first reading later today will be akin to cocking a gun, as he asserts he will not enter into dialogue over the judicial overhaul program under such circumstances.
“I say again ‘stop’ and we can speak seriously, it’s not too late,” says Gantz during a National Unity faction meeting at the Knesset.
“The founding fathers [of Israel] did not imagine a regime that is not democratic. They knew democracy is not just counting voters but listening to voters. Today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, you are not listening. You are working against the will of the people, against the foundations of our country, it’s you and your friends against the founding fathers. The 2023 coalition against the Declaration of Independence.”
Gantz says there is “no reason for dialogue when they are pushing forward the legislation,” but if the process was frozen “we could come to understandings.”
Asked if he will negotiate on the terms of the government’s judicial overhaul program if the legislation is approved in its first reading this evening, Gantz likens the submission of the bill to placing a loaded gun on the table.
“Passing it in its first reading is cocking the gun and putting a bullet in the chamber and I won’t negotiate under such circumstances,” he insists.
KYIV, Ukraine — US President Joe Biden has left Kyiv after making a surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital and promising increased arms deliveries, a White House pool report says.
“President Biden has left Kyiv,” the report says, wrapping up Biden’s lightning visit to Kyiv ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the pro-Western country.
Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman calls on President Isaac Herzog not to sign off on the government’s legislative proposals to transform the judicial system, saying they contradict the Declaration of Independence.
Speaking at his right-wing opposition party’s faction meeting, Liberman says he sees no point to hold talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition in an effort to reach a compromise on judicial reform, as Herzog has urged.
“There hasn’t been an agreement or understandings that Netanyahu didn’t ultimately violate, or lie or deceive,” Liberman charges.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says Israel has told the US it won’t legalize any further West Bank outposts “in the coming months” beyond the nine wildcat communities that the government legalized last week.
“Israel didn’t commit to stop destroying illegal [Palestinian] buildings in Area C,” the Prime Minister’s office says in a statement, referring to parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control.
Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar phoned Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the past few days to warn “the atmosphere is heating up” as the government moves ahead with its contentious proposals to overhaul the judiciary, according to Channel 12 news.
Bar reportedly told Levin that Shin Bet assessments indicate “a growing potential for violence and escalation as the legislation advances” and therefore urged him “to do everything to calm the climate.”
The network, which doesn’t cite a source, says Bar reached out to Levin as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refrained from getting involved in the matter.
Yair Netanyahu, the premier’s eldest son, is claiming that the Shin Bet security agency is involved in “a coup” against his father.
“The Shin Bet is involved in a coup against the prime minister! Investigative committee now! These people need to stand trial and be sent to prison for many years,” Netanyahu writes on Twitter, without offering any proof.
The accusation is made in response to a tweet by pro-Netanyahu pundit Eli Zipori, who claimed that Shin Bet employees working as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s drivers were leaking information to journalist Ben Caspit.
Yair Netanyahu has become known for his incendiary comments and social media and frequently rails at those he says have wronged him or his family, leading to numerous libel lawsuits against him.
The Israel Defense Forces says a suspect who was detained by troops after crossing the border from Syria into the Golan Heights last month was involved in efforts by the Hezbollah terror group to gather intelligence on Israel.
Ei’th Abdollah, according to the IDF, was part of the so-called Golan File.
He was detained alongside another man, who was apparently uninvolved in the Hezbollah efforts.
The military says Abdollah and the second man were detained on the eastern side of the fence — built in Israeli territory — on January 27.
“During the questioning, Ei’th [Abdollah] provided information regarding additional terrorist operatives that promote terrorist activities in the area of the border,” the IDF says in a statement.
“The IDF will not tolerate any terrorist activity from southern Syria and will maintain the sovereignty of the State of Israel,” it adds.
About a dozen counter-demonstrators, ringed by police protection and heckled by the anti-judicial overhaul majority near the Knesset in Jerusalem, are advocating legal reforms to weaken and remake the Supreme Court.
“The High Court of Justice doesn’t help us, it tramples us,” says one of the protesters into a loudspeaker. “It destroys our homes.”
“The people are the sovereign, the time has come for you to stop trampling over our rights,” adds the religious supporter of settlement. “The high court is a dictator, it doesn’t represent our values.”
Alongside the group of religious protesters are secular supporters, holding signs saying: “The High Court of Justice is a dictator.”
“Since the judicial revolution [in the 1990s], when the High Court of Justice authorized itself to act according to a constitution it defined for itself, the High Court has made itself the unelected sovereign of the country,” says Aharon, 37, who came from Tel Aviv.
“I have been feeling for years already that this country has enabled criminals to enter the Knesset,” he says, citing Arab lawmakers who are “against the leadership of Israel.”
Aharon, who is secular and identifies with the political right, also cites the Oslo peace process, the Gaza Disengagement, and the prevention of deporting African asylum seekers as examples of the court’s overreach.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, a veteran Likud MK, comes out in support of dialogue between the coalition and opposition regarding the government’s sweeping legal overhaul, and against attempts to portray the protests against it as “anarchist” and “far-left.”
At a Conference of Presidents event in Jerusalem, Tzachi Hanegbi says he has “many friends who are not anarchists and not extreme leftists, and they are definitely concerned by the judicial issue.”
Cheering for democracy and against “crony capitalism,” hundreds of protesters stream out of Jerusalem’s train station, en route to the second week of mass anti-judicial reform protests outside the Knesset.
Among them are several reserve and former reserve soldiers, carrying banners emblazoned with slogans such as “brothers in arms,” like 69-year-old Yohanan Ittach from Nirit.
“I’m a warrior. A warrior against my enemies. And a warrior for my values. And I fight right now for my home,” he says, stepping out of Jerusalem’s train station to make his way to the protest.
“It’s not for me, I’m finished,” the nearly septuagenarian says with flair. “It’s for my children, my grandchildren.”
US President Joe Biden promises increased arms deliveries for Ukraine during a surprise visit to Kyiv, in which he also vows Washington’s “unflagging commitment” to defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
“I will announce another delivery of critical equipment, including artillery ammunition, anti-armor systems, and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments,” Biden is quoted as saying in a White House statement.
Police say all roads blocked in Tel Aviv as part of the protest against the government’s judicial overhaul have been reopened.
A mass demonstration is expected later near the Knesset in Jerusalem.
The tempestuous hearings in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee continue, with Knesset members engaging once again in the shouting matches, insults, mutual recriminations, slurs and general incivility that have become a hallmark of the committee’s proceedings as it blitzes through the various parts of the government’s judicial overhaul.
Committee chair MK Simcha Rothman — followed later by his stand-in, Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky — expel numerous MKs from the hearing during the course of the ill-tempered debate, including Hadash MK Ofer Cassif who labeled Likud MK Ariel Kallner “a terrorist,” after Kallner branded Cassif “an antisemite.”
The legislation under discussion would drastically reduce the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation deemed incompatible with Israel’s Basic Laws and allow the Knesset to pass such laws that are from the outset immune to such judicial review.
Rothman confirms that a clause in the bill would deny the court any power to interpret Basic Laws as including rights that are not explicitly laid out.
The legal adviser to the committee, Gur Bligh, states that this is the most consequential aspect of the legislation, since some fundamental rights have been derived by such interpretation by the court in the past.
In response to a question by Labor MK Efrat Rayten Marom, Bligh says freedom of speech would not be a protected right following passage of the legislation, since it is not specifically anchored in any Basic Law.
Rothman insists that the High Court should “respect” only what the Knesset has explicitly legislated, and expresses hope that the Knesset will in the future pass a Basic Law protecting basic rights.
US President Joe Biden makes a surprise trip to Kyiv ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden meets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Ukrainian capital on his first visit to the country since the start of the conflict.
“One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” he says.
MK Ze’ev Elkin of the National Unity party and Likud MK Yuli Edelstein arrive in Kyiv at the head of a parliamentary friendship visit.
The two lawmakers, members of the Knesset’s Israel-Ukraine parliamentary friendship group, will meet their counterparts in the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, as well as senior ministers and Jewish community leaders.
They are met at Kyiv’s train station by Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky, after landing in Krakow.
Both Knesset members grew up in Soviet Ukraine, Elkin in Kharkiv and Edelstein in Chernivtsi.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen took a train to Kyiv last week, in the first visit by an Israeli minister to the capital since the war began a year ago.
— Michael Brodsky (@michael_brodsk) February 20, 2023
Iran denies the report that it has enriched uranium up to 84%, just below the 90% needed to produce an atomic bomb, according to state media.
The spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, Behruz Kamalvandi, describes yesterday’s report by Bloomberg as “slander” and a “distortion of the facts,” according to state news agency IRNA.
“The presence of a particle or particles of uranium above 60 percent in the enrichment process does not mean enrichment above 60 percent,” he adds.
A diplomat outside Iran meanwhile confirms to AFP the figures reported in the Bloomberg report, saying: “The percentage is correct.”
The IAEA is “giving Iran the opportunity to explain because it’s apparently possible that there can be so-called ‘spikes’ of higher levels of enrichment,” the diplomat says.
Iran was last known to have enriched uranium up to 60 percent. Uranium enriched up to 90 percent purity is considered nuclear weapons-grade.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani says his country is “committed” to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. He warns against the politicization of the role of the UN nuclear watchdog, saying it “distorts its position.”
“The agency should act within the framework of specialized tasks,” he adds.
In vastly fewer numbers than last Monday’s protest in front of the Knesset, protesters against the government’s judicial reform gather on packed Tel Aviv train platforms to join the tens of thousands expected this afternoon in Jerusalem.
One of them, Shiri, who declines to share her full name, has taken another vacation day to add her support to the protest, scheduled to coincide with the coalition bringing its first judicial reform bill for a Knesset plenum vote this evening.
“No, I don’t think it will change,” Shiri says of the government’s plan to cement government control over judicial appointments and constrain Supreme Court review of Basic Laws, the subject of today’s vote.
Nevertheless, “we still need to protest,” she adds, Israeli flag in hand.
Reflecting the sentiment of many in the crowd, Shiri says she hopes the public pressure might bring about a softening of the reforms, or encourage “moderate forces in Likud to dare to raise their voices.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, joined by its far-right and religious coalition partners, has said it’s determined to pass the first reading of the bills before engaging in “dialogue” over the overhaul’s provisions.
After anti-government protesters block key highways and roads as part of their protests against the judicial overhaul, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir says he will hold an “urgent” situation assessment at a police command center in Jerusalem.
A statement from Ben Gvir’s office says “anarchists are going wild,” with protests going “out of control” with roadblocks in contradiction with his policy.
“Freedom of speech — yes, anarchy — no,” the far-right minister says. “We must preserve the fabric of life and not enable anarchists to paralyze the country.”
Iran rejects the accusation, voiced yesterday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that the Islamic Republic is behind an attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker in the Arabian Sea.
“We strongly reject the Zionist regime’s accusation against Iran regarding the attack on the Israeli tanker,” says Nasser Kanaani, a spokesperson for Tehran’s foreign ministry, during a weekly news conference, according to Reuters.
“We are very active in maintaining security and freedom of navigation in international waters and will continue to do so,” he adds.
The February 10 attack targeted Campo Square, a Liberian-flagged product tanker, causing minor damage and no injuries.
Protesters are blocking roads in various locations throughout the country, including Route 1, the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, near the Hemed Interchange.
Video footage also shows protesters blocking the road near the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv.
חוסמות וחוסמים בתל אביב pic.twitter.com/2cttgACqeL
— Haaretz הארץ (@Haaretz) February 20, 2023
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz calls for dialogue to avert what he says will be “a rift the likes of which it is doubtful [Israel has] ever known” and “a black day in the history” of the state.
“The judicial revolution will remake Israeli democracy to the extent that it will be unrecognizable,” he says at a conference.
Turning to Netanyahu, Gantz adds that there is a “historic opportunity” to find consensus on judicial reform.
“If one side loses, we all lose,” he adds. “It is not too late to turn the rift into an opportunity for reconciliation.”
As the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee kicks off its debate of the judicial overhaul bills, opposition members decry today as a “day of national mourning.”
“Today is a difficult day for us and for many of Israel’s citizens,” says MK Orit Farkash-Hacohen of the center-right National Unity party.
Turning to committee chairman Simcha Rothman, she adds, “Despite your calls for dialogue, I have not found in this committee a hand extended in dialogue. I’m disappointed in the process here and in the results of this debate.”
President Isaac Herzog has been leading the push for a compromise agreement on judicial reform, but the initiative has so far seemed a nonstarter, with the government rebuffing opposition demands that it freeze the legislative process in order to engage in dialogue.
Likud’s MK Tally Gotliv, whose home was barricaded by protesters this morning, takes the demonstrators to task, screaming during a session of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
“These are animals! Predators!” she says. “You can’t come to the home of a person and tell me I can’t leave the house — that’s the height of anarchism. You will not harm the right to privacy in the name of a protest. You wait for me in my building at 6:10 in the morning.”
“Had it come to violence I cannot defend myself,” Gotliv yells tearfully. “Friends, relax.”
Opposition members attending the committee session join the condemnations of the protesters outside Gotliv’s home.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assails protesters who gathered around the home of MK Tally Gotliv, whose daughter has special needs.
“When protesters prevent public representatives from coming to the Knesset to vote, and make an autistic girl miserable, that isn’t a legitimate protest,” he says in a statement.
“The protesters who preach about democracy are the ones ending democracy by preventing public representatives from realizing a basic right in a democracy — voting,” Netanyahu adds.
“I call on the police to act immediately and allow all Knesset members to come to parliament.”
Parents and children join protests against the legal overhaul throughout the country, including in Tel Aviv and Haifa.
They demonstrate outside schools and educational institutions, many chanting “no education, no democracy.”
מחאת ההורים והתלמידים נגד ההפיכה המשטרית – ההפגנות ברחבי הארץ כעת: pic.twitter.com/BuZrGzyDTJ
— Or-ly Barlev ~ אור-לי ברלב (@orlybarlev) February 20, 2023
בהוד השרון הבוקר הורים וילדים – הילד pic.twitter.com/ZTHReygmli
— לירי בורק שביט (@lirishavit) February 20, 2023
בשעה זו: אלפי הורים וילדים צועדים ומפגינים ברחבי תל אביב. צומת רוקח-נמיר נחסם לתנועה, כמו גם העלייה מהאיילון לשדרות קק"ל. כל העיר נלחמת על הדמוקרטיה pic.twitter.com/ProfZNNFC2
— Time Out Tel Aviv (@TimeOutTA) February 20, 2023
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 20, 2023
Opposition leader Yair Lapid condemns protesters for blocking the home of a Likud lawmaker who has been one of the most outspoken proponents of the government’s radical judicial overhaul plan.
“I vigorously condemn the siege of MK Tally Gotliv, whose daughter has special needs, and the fact that [the protesters] didn’t let her through to take the girl to school,” tweeted Lapid, whose daughter has autism.
“This is not our way,” he adds. “This is not the way of this protest. I send Tali strength and a hug for her daughter.”
Activists against the judicial overhaul also blocked the home of Education Minister Yoav Kisch.
Eight people were detained by police outside the two homes.
The action came ahead of planned mass protests today, as the government prepares to push part of the controversial package past a first major Knesset hurdle.
Are you relying on The Times of Israel for accurate and timely coverage right now? If so, please join The Times of Israel Community. For as little as $6/month, you will:
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we started the Times of Israel eleven years ago - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel