ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Rivlin says Israel ‘can’t agree to half a democracy,’ amid ongoing judicial talks

Ex-president calls for system with ‘clear separation of powers,’ says every Israeli can decide whether his successor Herzog is doing a good job or not in mediating negotiations

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a conference at Bar-Ilan University, January 17, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a conference at Bar-Ilan University, January 17, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Amid the continued negotiations on judicial reform that President Isaac Herzog has been hosting, his predecessor Reuven Rivlin said the talks must ensure Israel’s democratic character.

“You can’t reach a situation in which you agree to half a democracy, and forgo the other half,” Rivlin told Channel 13 news in an interview aired Saturday, his first since leaving office two years ago.

Rivlin said it was not his place to criticize if Herzog believes the negotiations have a chance, but urged the current president to exercise “his powers.”

“Every citizen can judge if he’s doing good or not,” Rivlin added.

Talks between teams representing the coalition and the opposition’s two biggest parties have been taking place for nearly two months, but no tangible progress has been made, according to sources close to the issue.

The former president stressed his backing for a system with “a clear separation of powers,” warning of the consequences if either the Supreme Court or Knesset infringes on the other’s authority.

“We’ll be handicapped in a democracy in which we take so much pride,” he said.

President Isaac Herzog hosts delegations from Likud, Yesh Atid and National Unity for judicial overhaul negotiations at his residence in Jerusalem, March 28, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In a segment of the interview aired Thursday, Rivlin said he was conflicted over his decision to not protest in March when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — a move that was later reversed — over Gallant’s call to halt the overhaul.

“Why didn’t I go out onto the streets? That’s what I asked myself,” Rivlin said. “I couldn’t go to the streets because I was once the president, and it’s not customary. I didn’t do it out of respect for the presidency, but as a citizen born in the State of Israel.”

“It was a night of great anxiety about what was going on in the whole system,” he added.

Netanyahu paused the overhaul plans following mass protests and a general strike held in response to Gallant’s firing — a move he reversed weeks later — opening the door for the compromise talks.

Rivlin is a former Likud minister who was president from 2014 to 2021. In a speech in December, he labeled the planned judicial overhaul an attempt to “destroy” the courts, and said that it was proposed out of “vindictiveness.”

Up until March, the coalition rushed forward with legislation that would bring most judicial appointments under government control and curb the oversight powers of the High Court of Justice.

Critics say the overhaul will sap the High Court of Justice of its power to act as a check and balance against the government, dangerously eroding Israel’s democratic character. Supporters say the legislation is needed to rein in what they see as an over-intrusive court system.

Once the state budget is approved, it appears likely that the coalition will return its focus to its judicial overhaul agenda.

The judicial appointments bill is on the cusp of being passed into law and can be brought for its final, back-to-back votes in the Knesset plenum at a moment’s notice. However, such action is almost sure to lead to a resumption of intense public unrest.

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