Over 70 local authorities urge dialogue before judicial overhaul pushed through

Among leaders of initiative are supporters of government’s plan to weaken legal system, who say they nevertheless see a need for discourse with opposition first

Israelis protest against the government's planned legal overhaul, in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, February 11, 2023. (Gershon Elinson /Flash90)
Israelis protest against the government's planned legal overhaul, in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, February 11, 2023. (Gershon Elinson /Flash90)

Over 70 local authorities are grouping together to call for dialogue between both sides of the dispute over the government’s planned judicial overhaul, the Ynet news site reported Sunday.

The report came as President Isaac Herzog, in an unusual move, was set to make a special address to the nation on Sunday evening, after previously pleading for dialogue on the plan.

Among the leaders of the local authorities initiative is Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat, one of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Revivi said he personally backs the legislative effort, which aims to dramatically weaken the High Court of Justice and secure political control over judicial appointments, among other measures, but added that he sees the need for discourse with those who oppose it for the sake of public unity.

A small protest against the judicial overhaul was held in Efrat on Saturday night, one of dozens of locations around the country where demonstrations were held against the legal shakeup, with the flagship event in Tel Aviv drawing some 150,000 protesters, according to organizers.

Referring to Israeli society, Revivi said the group of local authorities wants to “check together how we can preserve what we have built here for years.”

“The situation on the ground is raging and sizzling; we need to launch a dialogue to move forward,” he said. “I support the [judicial] reform, but we will miss the target if we lose broad swathes of the people.”

He said many members of the public fear their voices are not being heard by the government.

“This calls for decision-makers to ensure that justice is being served and felt,” he urged.

Efrat mayor Oded Revivi speaks during a press conference in Efrat on July 31, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Deputy head of the Federation of Local Authorities, Dimona Mayor Benny Biton, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, told Ynet in a joint video interview with Revivi that he too supports the overhaul, “but I don’t agree [with their plan to] not discuss it first.”

“Good people are worried and there is a crisis. Everything possible must be done to hear the other side,” Biton said, predicting that once the group of participating local authorities has organized, they will meet with Netanyahu and Levin.

Herzliya Mayor Moshe Feldman, who also joined the video interview, raised his fears that the heated dialogue could soon lead to physical violence.

“The day is not far away when someone will be hurt, which must not happen under any circumstances,” he warned.

Mayor of Dimona Benny Biton attends a conference in Tel Aviv, February February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

President Herzog has urged the government and the opposition to discuss the proposed legislation, which Netanyahu and members of his coalition insist they are open to, though they have also pledged not to slow the legislative effort, despite opposition figures setting a delay as a precondition for such talks.

The move by local authorities came as the heads of most opposition parties announced they would be hosting a joint press conference Monday at the Knesset, where the coalition is due to begin holding votes on parts of the overhaul.

“This is a time of emergency. We won’t let the State of Israel be destroyed,” the leaders of Yesh Atid, National Unity, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor said in a statement.

A large-scale private sector strike has been called for Monday to protest the government’s plans, with demonstrators set to rally in Jerusalem outside the Knesset.

President Isaac Herzog speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, January 24, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The legal overhaul would 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.

Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms would undermine Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended. Netanyahu and other coalition members have dismissed the criticism.

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