Poll: 55% of Likud voters back judicial overhaul, but 27% fear for Israeli democracy

Channel 12 survey shows most who voted for Netanyahu’s party hope laws to radically curb the judiciary pass, just 17% oppose; 40% want to push legislation through dialogue, talks

Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with incoming Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with incoming Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Most Likud voters support Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s plans to completely restructure the legal system in Israel, a key campaign promise by the new hardline coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud chairman.

According to a poll aired on Channel 12 on Friday, 55 percent of the Likud voters surveyed back the new government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary, and 42% support a process to fast-track the required legislation. There was no indication of how many people were polled, through which means, and the margin of error.

The series of questions on the survey, commissioned through market research company Midgam, appeared aimed at gauging satisfaction with the performance of the new government, sworn in just late last month, and public perception of controversial policies as well as far right, and religious coalition partners.

Asked if they feared for the future of Israeli democracy, 72% of Likud voters said no, 27% said yes, and 1% didn’t know.

According to the survey, 67% of the Likud voters surveyed said they were indeed satisfied with the government’s performance so far, while 26% said they were not satisfied, and 7% said they weren’t sure. The poll also found that 45% of those surveyed felt that Likud’s coalition partners had more pull on government policy than Likud’s own senior ministers.

Netanyahu’s hardline coalition is made up of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party headed by Itamar Ben Gvir, the new national security minister, and the similarly aligned Religious Zionism, led by Bezalel Smotrich, the new finance minister, as well as the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, headed by Aryeh Deri, the interior and health minister, and Yitzhak Goldknopf, the housing and construction minister, respectively.

The small far-right Noam faction, a party that openly espouses homophobic views and is led by Avi Maoz, is also part of the coalition. Maoz will oversee a key component of students’ curriculum and is also set to be given a new “Jewish identity” office and power over immigration policies.

Some 40% of those surveyed in the Channel 12 poll felt Likud ministers had more say on the policies and projects pursued by the Netanyahu government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 9, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

One of the more notable, and contentious, policies is the plan to restructure the legal system, spearheaded by Levin, the justice minister and a Netanyahu confidant.

The legal overhaul will grant the government total control over the appointment of judges, including to the High Court, severely limit the High Court’s ability to strike down legislation, and enable the Knesset to re-legislate laws the court does manage to annul with a majority of just 61 MKs.

While a majority of 55% of Likud voters in the survey said they support the move, 17% said they oppose it, and 28% “don’t know.”

The plan for sweeping judicial changes has drawn fierce criticism across the board, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut warning on Thursday that its enactment would deal a “fatal blow” to Israel’s democratic character.

Legal professionals and opposition parties have also blasted the plan, and a mass protest is expected Saturday evening in Tel Aviv, where demonstrators plan to take to the streets for the second consecutive weekend to warn against the move.

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)

In the survey aired on Channel 12, 40% of Likud voters polled said they thought the legal overhaul should be pursued through dialogue and negotiations with opposition parties and legal authorities, but 42% said they wanted to see the program fast-tracked into law.

Coalition officials have said they aim to get the entire legislative package passed into law by the end of the current Knesset session.

The remainder (18%) of the Likud voters polled said they “don’t know”  how the judicial overhaul should proceed.

Separately, when asked if Shas’s Deri was fit for a ministerial position, 53% of those Likud voters polls said no, 28% said yes, and 19% said they didn’t know.

Deri’s appointment as interior and health minister is currently being challenged in the High Court due to his conviction last year on tax offenses, for which he received a suspended prison sentence.

The High Court expressed significant skepticism regarding the legitimacy of the government’s political and legal maneuverings to allow Deri to serve as a minister once again.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Minister of the Interior and Health Aryeh Deri during the swearing-in ceremony of the new government at the Knesset, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last week, a separate survey aired on Channel 12 showed that 65% of Israelis polled across parties said Deri’s appointment was not appropriate. Among supporters of Netanyahu’s bloc, 43% said it was not appropriate for Deri to serve as a minister, while 42% said it was.

The same survey found that 39% of those polled were against the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul, while 29% were in favor. Nearly a third — 32% — said they did not know.

Backers of Netanyahu’s coalition had a much clearer view, with 51% saying they support Levin’s reform package and the other 49% opposing it.

Earlier Friday, Netanyahu rejected the intense professional criticism of his government’s plan for judicial changes, urging for cooler heads.

“The amendments need to be made responsibly and with discretion while hearing out all positions, and that’s exactly the process that will now be carried out in parliament,” he said.

“I suggest everyone calm down and enter into a substantive discussion,” he added.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid responded on Twitter: “You did not receive a mandate from the public to destroy democracy.”

Channel 12 news, citing an unnamed senior Likud source, also reported Friday evening that the party may be open to compromise on the reform plan.

“Things will not remain as they were,” the source said of the justice system. “But [the changes] don’t need to be as radical as in Levin’s initial proposal.”

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