Netanyahu: Law to change judicial selection will pass next week; I also intend to legislate to protect individual rights

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a statement to the nation on the judicial overhaul, on March 23, 2023. (Screencapture)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a statement to the nation on the judicial overhaul, on March 23, 2023. (Screencapture)

The following is a summary of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech tonight.

Netanyahu begins his address by saying that, after his election in November, he promised to be “the prime minister of all the citizens of Israel. I meant it then and I mean it today. We have one state and we must do everything to protect it from outside threats and from an irreparable rift inside,” he says. “We can’t let any disagreement, however fierce,  endanger our joint future.”

Opponents of the coalition’s sweeping judicial reform “aren’t traitors,” and supporters “aren’t fascists,” he says. “Most Israeli citizens, across the political spectrum, love our state and want to protect our democracy.”

But supporters of reform, he says, “say we don’t have real democracy here, and that what endangers it is an all-powerful Supreme Court that in practice runs the country.”

Meanwhile, opponents of the reform believe that democracy is endangered by “a Knesset and a government acting without brakes, and that will harm individual rights.”

A proper democratic regime “must ensure the rule of the majority and at the same time protect individual rights,” he says.

“To avoid a rift in the people, each side must take seriously the claims and concerns of the other,” he goes on.

Backers of the reform complain that the balance between the branches of government has been breached — including because “the court intervened without justification in security considerations in the fight against terror, prevented the deportation of migrants, intervened in [the terms of Israel’s] gas [extraction] deals” — hurting all citizens financially, he says.

“Without the right to do so, it struck down laws, prevented appointments and intervened in many areas where it did not have the right to do so,” he adds.

“And many complain that the court behaves like a ‘closed club’ — where judges bring in their friends. The judges have a veto [in the selection committee] — and in practice they appoint themselves,” he claims. (In fact, the political majority also has a veto, so judges are currently chosen by consensus.) “Many people feel this needs correcting.”

But, he goes on, there are also those who think the democratic reform as presented will go too far and will allow the government and the Knesset to take control of the Court, to override all rulings, to enact any law.

“They fear a theocracy, a non-liberal state, laws against LGBTQs, secular, women, minorities.”

In light of those fears, Netanyahu says, “I believe that it is possible to bring a reform that provides an answer to both sides — a reform to restore the balance between the branches [of government], to protect and enshrine the individual rights of all citizens.”

Says Netanyahu: “We didn’t come to crush and destroy. We came to balance and to fix.

“We are determined to advance the democratic reform that will restore the appropriate balance between the branches.

“The best way to achieve the balanced reform and to prevent the rift in the people is via discussion, to achieve the broadest possible consensus,” he says.

“To my sorrow, thus far the heads of the opposition have refused to enter this discussion. We have wasted almost three months because of that refusal. I hope that will change within days,” says the prime minister. “I am acting to find a solution.” (The opposition has refused to negotiate with Netanyahu because the coalition has declined to pause the legislation.)

Netanyahu says: “We already made changes in the law regarding the Judicial Selection Committee to meet those concerns.”

He then makes clear that the law will pass in its current form next week. “The law that will pass next week in the Knesset is a law that does not control the court — it balances and diversifies it. It opens the doors of the court to views and publics and vast sectors that hitherto were excluded from it.”

“We don’t want a court controlled [by the political majority]; we want a balanced court — a court of the people — and a court like this will win the public’s support,” he says. “It’s not the end of democracy; it’s strengthening democracy.”

He cites the US, New Zealand and Canada as countries where justices are politically appointed, without noting the various protections and systemic differences in those countries.

He goes on to discuss the planned override clause in legislation also advancing through the Knesset, whereby the coalition can preemptively prevent judicial intervention and relegislate laws struck down by the High Court.

“I know there is a central fear raised by the other side of an unlimited override clause, whereby every small Knesset majority can block every ruling of the court. That won’t happen. Quite the opposite. I intend to anchor in law individual rights — we will guarantee the rights — of all Israeli citizens — Jews and non-Jews, secular and Orthodox, women, LGBTQ — all of them, without exception. All legislation will be obligated to those principles. We intend to present detailed legislation to this effect,” he says.

“Until today my hands were tied [until last night’s passage of the law preventing his recusal except for health reasons]. So tonight I announce to you, no further.” He says he is “putting all other issues aside… I will do everything I can to find a solution for the sake of our people, our state.”

He says he just met several ministers, “including the defense minister. I heard his concerns about the implications of the situation on our national security. I am taking it all into account.”

He concludes by saying “there is no place for refusal” to serve in the IDF. “It endangers our national and personal security. Refusal is unjustified.”

“I will do everything to calm the tempers and prevent the rift in the people,” he says. “Because we are all brothers.”

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