Ra’am’s Abbas confirms Levin has reached out to seek overhaul support, denies deal

Head of Arab party says justice minister has sought his backing for controversial legislation, but insists he would ‘never support things that will harm the democratic model’

Justice Minister Yariv Levin (left) speaks at a rally in Jerusalem, April 27, 2023; Ra'am chair Mansour Abbas attends a Knesset meeting, March 5, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90; Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin (left) speaks at a rally in Jerusalem, April 27, 2023; Ra'am chair Mansour Abbas attends a Knesset meeting, March 5, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90; Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas confirmed on Sunday that Justice Minister Yariv Levin had reached out in an attempt to gain his backing for the government’s controversial judicial overhaul plan.

“What Minister Yariv Levin said to me is the same thing he has said to me in the Knesset plenum in front of cameras — that he is asking for support for this version or another version of the changes [to the judiciary] that they are planning to advance,” Abbas told the Ynet news site.

Abbas added that he holds a regular dialogue with Levin and other government ministers on a wide range of issues, and his recent meeting with the justice minister was not unusual.

The Ra’am chief denied, however, the report that there was a deal brewing between him and Levin to provide his parliamentary backing for a financial package aimed at supporting Arab communities.

“There is no connection between what’s going on with the changes in the judicial system and the [Arab community’s needs for funding for] economic or social changes or the fight against violence,” he added.

“There can’t be any sort of deal where you agree to things that you ideologically refuse to [support] on protecting democracy and the independence of the court and the power of the court,” the Ra’am chief added, saying that he does not favor any move that could harm minority rights in Israel, an outcome predicted by opponents of the government’s plans.

Ra’am MK Mansour Abbas in the Knesset on June 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“I will never support things that will harm the democratic model, or the status of Arabs as a minority in Israel,” he added.

Channel 12 news reported last week that Levin and Abbas were engaged in negotiations over the justice minister’s attempts to garner Ra’am’s support as a “safety net” for the government’s judicial overhaul legislation.

Levin — a key architect of the overhaul — is reportedly looking to ensure that the government’s plans will not be discarded even if the ongoing talks brokered by President Isaac Herzog fall short of reaching a broad agreement.

The unsourced report claimed that Levin was attempting to lure Ra’am with funding and specific assistance to the Arab community in exchange for its backing. It also said that Abbas had not ruled out cooperation with Likud but was not satisfied with the backroom talks.

The report also claimed that the approval last week of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation — chaired by Levin — of a bill to establish a new hospital in the northern Arab city of Sakhnin was a gesture of goodwill to Abbas.

Herzog’s office said Thursday that the first round of negotiations over the judicial overhaul has been completed, following a meeting between representatives of the coalition, and Yesh Atid and National Unity parties.

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