PM ally Hanegbi admits mass protests halted original judicial overhaul package

In interview promo, national security adviser appears to say he was happy when protesters’ ‘bleak forecasts’ of ‘dictatorship’ dissipated, but he later says remarks were ‘distorted’

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi speaks at the Herzliya Conference at Reichman University, on May 23, 2023. (Gilad Kavalerchik)
File: National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi speaks at the Herzliya Conference at Reichman University on May 23, 2023. (Gilad Kavalerchik)

In an interview set to air Monday evening, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said demonstrations against the coalition’s contentious judicial overhaul plans were key in halting the package of radical legislative changes that was initially proposed.

A promotional clip for the Channel 12 interview made it appear that Hanegbi was pleased that the rallies prevented activists’ fears of a “dictatorship” from being realized — comments that he later called “distorted.”

In the preview, Hanegbi said he was “very surprised” by the public response to the government’s judicial shakeup proposals. Protests against the legislation have raged for 35 weeks in a row, with activists vowing to continue to demonstrate until the plans are shelved completely.

“That’s why I was very glad when I understood that the protesters’ bleak forecasts simply weren’t going to come true. Which I’m sure they are happy about,” Hanegbi stated.

Asked by the interviewer what forecasts he was referring to, Hanegbi answered: “That we’re headed to a dictatorship.”

When the interviewer said this was due to the protests, Hanegbi seemed to respond: “Exactly so. The protest movement was the most effective factor in stopping the original plans for judicial reform. That’s a fact.”

In response, Hanegbi said in a statement that the promo “distorted” the true nature of his comments: “I explicitly made clear in the interview that ‘the fear of dictatorship’ is in the minds of the protesters and has no connection to reality.”

“The comments do not reflect at all my opinion or the opinion of the prime minister,” he added.

Protests came to a fever pitch in March when Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was fired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he publicly called on the prime minister to halt the legislation. The ensuing mass rallies led to the prime minister halting the original forms and entering into compromise talks with the opposition, which eventually collapsed in June.

After the talks collapsed, the coalition pushed through a law barring courts from using the test of reasonableness to review and strike down ministerial decisions and appointments, sparking fierce demonstrations.

Several former security official have expressed their opposition to the judicial overhaul proposals as a threat to Israel’s democratic character and have joined protests.

Additionally, the IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Air Force head Tomer Bar, and others have warned that military reservist protests against the overhaul are having an increasingly negative impact on military readiness, drawing rebukes from Netanyahu, other lawmakers, and supporters of the far-right, religious government.

More than 10,000 military reservists who show up for duty on a voluntary basis have said in recent months that they would no longer do so, in protest of the judicial overhaul, charging that the government’s plans to weaken the judiciary will turn Israel into an undemocratic country. No official figures have been made available regarding how many reservists have failed to show up for duty thus far.

Police use water cannons to disperse anti-overhaul activists blocking Begin Road in Jerusalem, on July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Unlike most reservists who are called up for duty with a formal order for several days a year, members of top units, especially pilots, are expected to train and carry out missions more frequently and in a voluntary manner, due to the nature of their positions. Many voluntarily continue their reserve duty past the exemption age of 45 for officers and 49 for certain positions.

Netanyahu’s coalition has rejected the reservists’ protests as a dangerous and unprecedented form of political blackmail by the military. Some coalition lawmakers suggested the protests are tantamount to an attempted military coup.

Hanegbi, a security hawk and veteran lawmaker for the Likud and Kadima parties, has headed a range of ministries and senior posts over the past three decades, and is considered a close confidante of Netanyahu.

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