Senior figures at a right-wing think tank that is behind significant portions of the government’s judicial overhaul plan have begun reaching out to right-wing Knesset members to convince them to indefinitely halt any further legislation, Channel 12 news reported Sunday.
The unsourced report said not everyone at the Kohelet Policy Forum was calling to immediately suspend the judicial shakeup. Those who are in favor of doing so believe the government should instead focus on less contentious matters, and that the cost of proceeding in terms of a social rift is not worth the benefits.
According to the report, those in favor of halting the legislation have met with lawmakers and other key right-wing figures and pointed out to them the harm being caused to security and Israeli society.
“We need to stop because the nation is completely divided, the army has been harmed and society is hurting,” they were said to argue.
Alongside months of mass protests that have seen police clash violently with protesters, thousands of army reservists have threatened to stop volunteering for special duties, such as piloting aircraft or serving in elite units, if the judicial overhaul is passed. Those threats have prompted concerns that IDF military readiness will be impacted.
According to Channel 12, some of the Kohelet figures voiced tough criticism of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, charging he took an uncompromising stance in negotiations to reach an agreement with opposition parties on the overhaul, hurting the prospects of enacting broader change to the judicial system.
The network said it was unclear when members of Kohelet, which declined to comment, began their outreach and, specifically, whether it was before or after the decision announced last week by the American billionaire who was the leading donor to the institute to stop funding it.
Arthur Dantchik, whose fortune is estimated at $7.5 billion and is considered the main financial supporter of the group, announced on Friday that he had stopped funding the institute, citing the current rifts in Israeli society.
In a statement confirming the development to the Calcalist news site, Dantchik wrote, “When a society becomes dangerously fragmented, people must come together to preserve democracy.
“I stopped donating to think tanks in Israel, including the Kohelet Policy Forum. I believe what is most critical at this time is for Israel to focus on healing and national unity,” he said.
Kohelet researchers played key roles in developing many of the new government’s policies regarding the judiciary. Levin has cited Aviad Bakshi, the head of the institution’s legal department, as one of the scholars he consulted while drawing up the far-reaching proposals.
Several individuals associated with Kohelet have previously expressed opposition to the overhaul in its current form.
Michael Sarel, head of the Kohelet Economic Forum, penned an opinion critical of the legislation earlier in March, writing: “If the reform paves the way for severe damage to liberal democracy, there will also be severe damage to the economy in the medium term.”
Some lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party have also indicated they won’t back continuing with the plan unless there is a broad consensus for it.
Netanyahu temporarily halted legislation of the plan in March while talks sponsored by President Isaac Herzog were held between coalition and opposition representatives. However, the negotiations did not produce an agreement and the government has since pushed ahead with some parts of the plan.
The government says its judicial overhaul is needed to rein in what it sees as an overreaching court. Opponents warn the plan will weaken the court so that it can no longer act as a check and balance against parliament, dangerously eroding Israel’s democratic nature.