Report: Netanyahu backtracked plan to pause overhaul after Levin threatened to quit

Premier’s primetime address was initially set to include a commitment to pause legislative process for 10 days to allow for talks, per president’s request; Likud: ‘Fake news’

File - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left), Justice Minister Yariv Levin (center) and Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, in the Knesset on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left), Justice Minister Yariv Levin (center) and Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, in the Knesset on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reportedly been set to announce a temporary halt to contentious judicial overhaul plans at a Wednesday press conference, but Justice Minister Yariv Levin threatened to resign, leading the premier to abandon the idea.

Netanyahu originally intended to accept President Isaac Herzog’s plea to pause the legislative process to allow good-faith talks to take place with the opposition, according to an unsourced Channel 13 report that aired Thursday. Levin, however, threatened to quit if the legislation was paused for so much as a day.

In a curt joint statement, Netanyahu and Levin both branded the story as “fake news.” Channel 13 said it stood behind its reporting.

A Channel 12 report last month claimed that Netanyahu and Levin were at loggerheads over aspects of the sweeping judicial reform, with Netanyahu ostensibly seeking to soften elements of it.

That report claimed Levin’s “rigid” approach to the legislation had taken Netanyahu by surprise and that the premier was growing increasingly agitated at the manner in which the proposals were being advanced. That story, too, was dismissed by Likud as unfounded.

Netanyahu has repeatedly backed the overhaul package — under which the independence and authority of the judiciary would be curbed — publicly declaring that it will bolster Israeli democracy in the face of widespread criticism by opponents who argue it places almost all power in the hands of the political majority and would constitute a change in Israel’s system of government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the nation after a day of violence on March 1, 2023. (Screenshot/Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In a primetime address on Wednesday, Netanyahu denounced the anti-overhaul demonstrators in Tel Aviv, comparing them to settlers who ransacked a Palestinian town after a terror attack on Sunday.

Just prior to Netanyahu’s address, two lawmakers from Benny Gantz’s opposition National Unity party and two from Netanyahu’s Likud issued a joint statement calling on all parties to reach a broad agreement, though they did not specify a pause in the legislative process as a precondition.

Channel 13 said on Thursday that the MKs’ statement was initially set to be signed by additional lawmakers, but several from the Likud withdrew their support at the last minute, fearing that the statement would be seen as marking a schism within the ruling party and thus a victory for opponents.

In another demonstration against the overhaul in Jerusalem on Thursday night, former justice minister Tzipi Livni accused the government of duplicity and fomenting hatred.

Tzipi Livni speaks during a protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking outside the Prime Minister’s Office, Livni told a crowd estimated in the hundreds that with one face the government talks publicly about unity, while with another it “spills poison.”

Referring to Netanyahu, Livni said: “We are here to prevent the state from falling prey to someone who puts himself before it.” She said Israel’s identity was in danger and that the protesters were “fighting for its soul.”

It was “not too late” to formalize the Declaration of Independence into a full-fledged constitution, she suggested, “despite all those who are trying to tear it apart.”

Historian Yuval Noah Harari speaks to Channel 12, on March 4, 2022. (Video screenshot)

Speaking via video, award-winning Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari told the crowd that the government “thinks we’re idiots; they think we don’t understand.”

“We know very well what they’re doing. They want unbridled power, they want to take away freedom, they want to silence us and to tell us how to live.”

“We Israelis don’t make good slaves — stop the coup, or we’ll stop the nation,” Harari threatened.

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