Netanyahu offers talks on next overhaul laws; Lapid: An empty show, he’s not real PM

PM promises High Court won’t come under coalition control; Lapid: He’s lying, to appease the US and calm the protests; Gantz: We’ll erase these laws from the statute book

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement to the nation after passing the first major law of the judicial overhaul, July 24, 2023. (video screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement to the nation after passing the first major law of the judicial overhaul, July 24, 2023. (video screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday night that the upcoming Knesset recess can be an opportunity to revisit negotiations on consensual changes to the judiciary. He was speaking, in a televised address, hours after his coalition unilaterally passed its first judicial overhaul law.

Netanyahu blamed the parliamentary opposition for the failure to reach a compromise on the law, which bans judicial review over the “reasonableness” of government and ministerial decisions, claiming all his side’s offers were rejected.

“Despite everything, my friends, we will continue to seek talks and agreements,” he said.

Referring to the other planned elements of the overhaul legislation, Netanyahu said the coalition would reach out to the opposition in the coming days for talks “to reach a general agreement on everything” by the end of November — a month after the Knesset returns from its summer recess. “That’s more than enough time,” he said.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid quickly dismissed Netanyahu’s overture, calling it “an empty show, because it is not within his authority.”

“As anyone involved in attempts to reach broad agreements has discovered, Benjamin Netanyahu is not really Israel’s prime minister. He is a prisoner of [Justice Minister Yariv] Levin and [far-right politicians Simcha] Rothman and [Itamar] Ben Gvir,” Lapid charged.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid addresses the Knesset plenum ahead of the passage of the “reasonableness” law, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid said he had “made every effort to prevent a rift in the nation,” but that “the opposition will not be a partner in talks that are just an empty show.”

Fellow opposition party head Benny Gantz expressed similar concerns, and said in his own televised statement that Netanyahu “preferred the political needs of Ben Gvir and the whims of Levin over Israel’s diplomacy, its security, over Israeli society and democracy.”

“Anyone who saw the defense minister beg the justice minister [to compromise as the Knesset prepared to vote on the law] understands how badly Israel now needs a responsible adult,” Gantz added, saying, “This is not how you run a country.”

Channel 12 reported on Monday evening that Netanyahu was interested in a last-minute compromise, but Levin and Otzma Yehudit party chief Ben Gvir rejected the proposal.

National Unity party chief Benny Gantz gives a statement to the media, July 24, 2023. (Video screenshot)

Netanyahu, Gantz added, “has failed. This whole government is a resonant failure.”

As rumors of unilateral efforts to soften the reasonableness curtailment bill swirled around the plenum during Monday’s floor debate, Ben Gvir released a statement to express “my regret that parts of the coalition are engaging in negotiations with themselves, and are considering arriving at a compromise that will hollow out the law.” The far-right minister warned that “any voting compromise on the reasonableness bill will be a disgrace for the whole right wing.”

In his TV speech on Monday evening, Netanyahu told the nation that the reasonableness law legislation was “necessary” to allow an elected government to rule according to the will of the electorate, and promised that the next slated change – a remake of the process to select Israel’s judges – would not give the government and coalition full control of the courts.

“No side can take control of the [High] Court. It will not happen on our watch,” he said.

Attacking Netanyahu’s trustworthiness, Lapid said that: “Netanyahu’s statement tonight is another lie, the sole purpose of which is to reduce pressure from the Americans and put the protests to sleep. The government of extremists and messianists cannot tear apart our democracy at noon, and in the evening send Netanyahu to say that he is proposing dialogue.”

Police use a water cannon on anti-overhaul activists blocking Begin Road in Jerusalem, as they protest against the government’s judicial overhaul, near the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu ignored repeated public warnings in recent days from US President Joe Biden, in which Biden expressed his concern over Israel’s proposed anti-democratic changes and urged slowing down to allow for broad consensus before making constitutional reforms.

Shortly after the vote, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement, “It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority” and that “we believe that for major democratic changes, you need to work for consensus. We urge Israeli leaders to work toward a consensus-based approach through political dialogue.”

Coalition lawmakers crowd around Justice Minister Yariv Levin to take a celebratory selfie in the Knesset plenum, as they pass the first of the coalition’s judicial overhaul laws, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Issuing a call for unity as Israelis took to the streets to protest Monday’s vote, Netanyahu said that the polarized country must remain “brothers,” despite disagreements.

In particular, he said that the Israel Defense Forces must remain above any political disagreement, amid mass resignations of military reservists from voluntary reserve duty.

“We have one nation, one home, one people. On the eve of Tisha B’Av, we must safeguard these above all else,” he said, speaking days before Jews commemorate the destructions of the two biblical temples, attributed to intra-community hatred.

Gantz also stressed the need for unity, calling on both supporters and opponents of the overhaul not to give in to hatred and “not to give up on us as one people,” while also declaring that extremists had won and the State of Israel lost in Monday’s vote.

“A majority in the Knesset that wants agreements was defeated by extreme MKs who decided to change our identity, who want to take us to an abyss of hatred, to divide us, and to turn us against each other,” said Gantz.

“Those who think they won today will soon find this was a grave mistake for us all,” he said.

Vowing to fight all further attempts to harm democracy, Gantz said that the “hundreds of thousands of patriots protesting” offer the path forward in the face of further planned “crushing legislation to politicize judicial appointments, override the High Court, harm the gatekeepers, and oust the attorney general. The public protests “are our hope.”

“We may have lost a battle but we will win the war,” he added.

“Everything approved here will be canceled and erased from the statute book, sooner or later.”

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