Pledging to carry on with overhaul, Levin says battle is over state’s character

Likud ministers say they won’t give in, including on the ‘override’ clause that Netanyahu says he’s scrapped

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Justice Minister Yariv Levin arrive to vote on the judicial selection panel in the Knesset, June 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Justice Minister Yariv Levin arrive to vote on the judicial selection panel in the Knesset, June 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin told supporters of his judicial overhaul plan on Friday that he would not back down on advancing the initiative, as opponents readied to intensify protests next week.

“I say to you clearly: I will not give up. Because I know that this struggle has become about much more than reforming the judicial system. It’s now a struggle over the makeup of the state and over our ability to lead a true Jewish and democratic life here,” Levin said in impromptu remarks to dozens of supporters who had assembled outside of his home in the central town of Modi’in in solidarity, after anti-overhaul demonstrators protested there hours earlier.

Opponents of the government’s judicial shakeup rallied outside the homes of several ministers on Friday. Organizers said they’d be reviving their so-called “Days of Disruption” next week in protest of the coalition’s effort to advance legislation to limit or end judicial review of the “reasonableness” of elected officials’ decisions.

“We don’t have money as they have, and we don’t have media backing as they have, but we have a strong strong belief [in the righteousness of our path], and [therefore] it will be impossible to defeat us,” Levin declared to cheers from his supporters.

“The people decide — not a handful of justices and not a violent group that thinks it can wake up an entire neighborhood at half past five in the morning or people who think that because they served in the army — as we and our children have — this gives them some prerogative to annul the election results and force their opinions upon all of us and prevent people from flying,” Levin said, referring to protesters who picketed outside his home early Tuesday and who have pledged to block roads outside Ben Gurion Airport next week.

Protest organizers say the curtailing of judicial review is just the first part of the many changes the government is seeking to pass, and believe it has decided to advance the legislation piece by piece after recognizing that doing it all at once sparked too big of a blowback from the public.

For his part, Levin insisted that representatives from the opposition at the now-defunct negotiations for a compromise had indicated support for curtailing the use of reasonableness as a tool of judicial review — a claim the opposition has refuted.

“That’s why we have to continue with the legislation. This is what we’re doing, and this is what we’ll continue to do,” said Levin, one of the main architects of the overhaul.

The justice minister insisted that the government would advance the changes “responsibly” and protect all sectors of Israeli society.

He noted that “our success depends on our cohesion and determination, both in the public and in the Knesset.” The remark appeared to reference the sometimes waning support within the Likud party for the overhaul, as demonstrated by coalition MK Tally Gotliv’s failed run to serve on the Judicial Selection Committee.

In a further indication of the coalition’s recognition that parts of the judicial overhaul have been particularly unpopular, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that the so-called “override clause” to enable the Knesset to circumvent Supreme Court decisions would not be advancing.

“The idea of an override clause, where the parliament, the Knesset, can override the decisions of the Supreme Court with a simple majority, I said, I threw that out… It’s out,” Netanyahu told the Journal, adding that he was “attentive to the public pulse, and to what I think will pass muster.”

But Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan told Channel 12 on Friday that Netanyahu had merely meant that a majority of 61 MKs would not be able to override High Court decisions. She insisted the coalition would still pass an override clause but with a larger required majority.

In fact, in the interview, Netanyahu specifically dismissed advancing an override clause in any form, even with a supermajority. His interviewer asked him whether the override clause “might come back with the supermajority.” Netanyahu responded categorically: “No, I said it’s out.”

Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“In the end, if we implement the policies we promised, there are elements [of the anti-overhaul movement] who will cross any red line and are willing to endanger the state and the army,” she claimed.

“This reform in its softened version is more or less acceptable to the majority of Israeli citizens,” Distel Atbaryan asserted, adding that Likud had paid a heavy price, given that its supporters had backed the original overhaul version that they were no longer advancing.

“Our public feels humiliated and rightly so,” she said.

The minister also attacked the protestors against the legal revolution. “I see the terminology of the protestors: ‘Bend them down, knock them down, defeat them.’ It’s terrifying bullying, completely detached from reality.”

Most Popular
read more: