Netanyahu says ‘reasonableness’ bill will boost democracy; efforts still being made for agreement on it

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives an address from the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 20, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives an address from the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 20, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a televised press address, defending his coalition’s move to bar Israel’s judges from using the judicial test of “reasonableness” for government and ministerial decisions and saying it won’t threaten democracy, but adds that efforts are being made to reach broad agreement on it.

The “reasonableness” bill is set to be voted into law early next week.

Netanyahu begins by hailing the country’s unity, saying that “we all want a Jewish and democratic state, we all want a strong IDF, and we all understand that we only have one country.” He adds that there are “naturally” disagreements.

“Many believe the balance of powers has been upended in recent decades and want it restored… so that the democratic choice of the people will be expressed by the government,” Netanyahu says, adding that others are legitimately concerned about the ramifications [of the planned judicial reform] and others still “want to topple the democratically elected government without any connection to the reform.”

In any case, the premier states, “Israel will stay a democracy, will remain a liberal state. It won’t become a halachic state and it will protect individual rights for all.”

But that also means there won’t be some people above the law — people who “block roads, set fires, block trains, block ambulances, endanger lives.”

He says his government wants consensus and therefore held compromise talks with the opposition for three months, arguing that the opposition rejected all coalition’s offers, and suggesting this may have been due to pressure from “extremists in the leadership of the protests who openly say they don’t want any compromise, but who seek solely to create chaos in order to topple the government without connection to the reform.”

He says the coalition nonetheless watered down the planned sweeping judicial reform package, it canceled the sweeping “override” proposal and is only currently advancing the “necessary” reasonableness bill.

“This is an attempt to scare you without reason,” he says, arguing that the bill won’t endanger, much less destroy, Israeli democracy.

He refers to comments from the opposition’s Yair Lapid and Gideon Sa’ar in favor of what he says are more radical changes to the use of reasonableness than those about to be legislated and says former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak said in 2019 that he was prepared to consider canceling “reasonableness” altogether.

“All this talk of [the bill] destroying democracy is absurd,” he says, “and has no basis in reality.” The bill “will strengthen democracy,” he says.

What will endanger democracy, he adds, is refusal to show up for reserve military duty, as many have threatened if the bill passes. “Refusal to serve threatens the security of all Israelis.”

“In a democracy, the military is subordinate to the army, it doesn’t subordinate the government. When military elements attempt to dictate government policy via threats, that is illegitimate in any democracy. And if they succeed… that is the end of democracy.”

“No responsible government, no responsible state, can agree to that and every citizen must oppose it with full force. In a proper democracy, it is not the hand holding the weapon that determines what happens, but the hand that puts the voting slip into the ballot box.”

“Refusal from one side will inevitably lead to refusal from the other, and where will that end?”

He compares the overhaul to controversial moves by previous governments — citing the Oslo accords, the uprooting of Gaza Strip settlements, and the establishment of [the previous] government dependent on the support of anti-Zionist elements (a reference to the Ra’am party) — and says that even though some saw these as threats to Israel’s existence, nobody threatened refusal to serve.

He laments that former prime ministers and IDF chiefs are among the “prime inciters of widespread refusal to serve” — even though they recognize how refusal to serve is seen by Israel’s enemies.

“In my 16 years as prime minister, I’ve always seen myself as prime minister of all of you,” he says.

He says there are efforts for an agreement on the reasonableness bill, even though it’s due to pass into law at the beginning of next week.

“Even in these very moments, I want to tell you, efforts are being made to reach agreement on the ‘reasonableness’ doctrine. I greatly hope these efforts will succeed. But even if they do not, the coalition’s door will always remain open to you, the people of Israel, and also to the opposition. Because even in the stormiest says, we remember, I always remember one thing: we are one nation, with one destiny, we have no other country, we are brothers.”

Most Popular