Gantz threatens to bring country 'to a halt' if bills return

Netanyahu says judicial overhaul to return to agenda now that budget has passed

Bucking speculation he may attempt to quietly bury the plan, PM says he hopes talks will yield compromise; Lapid calls on Herzog to demand ‘immediate clarification’ from premier

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Levin during a discussion and a vote on the state budget at Knesset in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Levin during a discussion and a vote on the state budget at Knesset in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted Wednesday morning that his coalition’s explosive judicial overhaul plan — shelved in March amid unprecedented protests and an economic shutdown — would return to the legislative agenda after the passage of the state budget.

“Of course,” Netanyahu said, when he was asked by reporters in the Knesset if the overhaul would be back on the table, bucking speculation he may attempt to quietly bury the plan.

“We are already within it, trying to reach understandings [with the opposition], and I hope we will succeed,” he said.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid censured the prime minister in response.

“The constitutional overthrow is not going to pass because we’re done being Netanyahu’s suckers,” he tweeted. “We weren’t surprised by his comments because we have zero faith in him.

“The president must demand from Netanyahu an immediate, public and coherent clarification of his dangerous statement,” Lapid added.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid delivers a speech in the Knesset plenum during the budget debate, May 23, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I see Netanyahu is power-hungry again, after passing a budget that will blow up in all of our faces. I want to remind Netanyahu that the definition of stupidity is to repeat the same actions with the expectation of different results,” said MK Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition National Unity party.

“If the constitutional overthrow is returned to the agenda, we’ll shake the entire country and bring it to a halt,” he tweeted.

Negotiations between Netanyahu’s government and opposition leaders aimed at reaching an agreement on changes to the judicial system have been ongoing at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, but with no signs of a breakthrough coalition figures have increasingly been threatening to resume their unilateral legislative efforts.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 15, 2023. (Yonatan SIndel/Flash90)

Last week, a key architect of the overhaul plan warned that the coalition will go back to advancing bills in the package during the current Knesset term, even if no agreements are reached.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, the chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, told Channel 12 that one such law could be a highly divisive bill to grant coalition politicians almost exclusive control over appointing judges. The bill has already cleared all the legislative hurdles other than its final votes in the Knesset.

Those remarks came a day after a report said Justice Minister Yariv Levin was threatening to exit the government unless at least some of its judicial overhaul legislation is passed before the Knesset adjourns at the end of July.

Levin said that if the compromise talks brokered by President Isaac Herzog do not prove fruitful, he wants to move ahead with the legislation regardless, once the state budget has been passed, Channel 12 said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with the architects of the proposed judicial overhaul, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and MK Simcha Rothman (standing) in the Knesset on February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The justice minister — spearheading the government’s plan to exert greater political control over the judiciary — reportedly told his associates that if nothing is advanced in the next two months, “what reason do I have to be in the government?”

That report had claimed Netanyahu was eager to wrap up the current Knesset session without bringing any of the highly contentious legislation back to the parliamentary floor.

On Tuesday, sources in the coalition and opposition denied that the outlines of an interim deal were beginning to emerge in the talks, responding to a report that Herzog’s office had suggested that both sides agree to negotiate the terms of a Basic Law: Legislation until the winter session of the Knesset, which begins October 15, guaranteeing that fundamental changes to the system of government would only be made with bipartisan agreement.

The judicial overhaul plan has sparked widespread opposition across Israel, with senior legal, security, and economic figures warning the move would undermine democracy by removing the system of checks and balances and as such will harm the country’s security and economy. Proponents argue they are defending democracy by reining in an activist court.

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