Netanyahu said to slam Herzog, holding him responsible for potential civil war

Unsourced TV report claims prime minister angry at president over timing, content of his judicial reform proposal; Prime Minister’s Office calls report ‘a disgusting lie’

President Isaac Herzog, right, grants Likud party chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu the mandate to form a new government, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
President Isaac Herzog, right, grants Likud party chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu the mandate to form a new government, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on November 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allegedly said that if there is a civil war over the government’s plan to drastically overhaul the judiciary, it will be the fault of President Isaac Herzog, a report said Sunday.

According to the unsourced Channel 13 report, Netanyahu made the remarks in a private conversation shortly after Herzog last week presented his alternative framework for judicial reform.

The Prime Minister’s Office rejected the report as “a disgusting lie.”

The proposed legislation to curtail the High Court’s power to act as a check against the government and which the ruling coalition has been rushing through the parliament has deeply riven Israeli society, prompting mass protests by those who oppose the changes.

Presenting his own proposal on Thursday, Herzog warned that the country was facing a real danger of civil war. His plan was swiftly rejected by the government as too slanted toward the positions of critics of the overhaul plan.

Shortly afterward, according to Sunday’s report, Netanyahu panned Herzog, intimating to confidants that if there is a civil war, “the blood will be on Herzog’s hands.”

The prime minister was said to be angry at Herzog for unveiling his proposal even though Netanyahu had asked him to wait another day or two, believing it was not yet fully formed as a viable plan.

President Isaac Herzog presents his proposed alternative framework on the judicial overhaul, on March 15, 2023 (Video screenshot)

Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation that aims to weaken the High Court of Justice, hand politicians control over the appointment of the nation’s judges, enable the Knesset to avoid judicial review for legislation, and enable ministers to appoint — and fire — their own legal advisers.

Coalition leaders said early Monday that it was delaying all the overhaul’s bills until at least the end of April, except for a central element of the package changing the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee to allow the coalition to appoint Supreme Court justices.

The coalition was also set to keep advancing bills tailored to Netanyahu — barring the attorney general and the High Court from refusing him due to conflict of interest, and allowing him to keep funds received from his late cousin as a gift which the court has ruled he has to return — and to Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, allowing the thrice-convicted politician to be reinstated as a minister despite a court ruling prohibiting this.

The plan’s proponents say it is a long-overdue measure to curb what they see as outsize influence by unelected judges. But critics say the plan will destroy Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances by concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his parliamentary majority. They also say it is an attempt by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, to escape justice.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets over the past two months to protest the sweeping overhaul.

High-tech leaders, Nobel-winning economists, and prominent security officials have spoken out against it, military reservists have threatened to stop reporting for duty and even some of Israel’s closest allies, including the US, have urged Netanyahu to slow down. Repeated efforts by Herzog to broker a compromise have not yielded fruit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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