Some Likud ministers said to tell Netanyahu, Levin legislative blitz must stop

Unnamed officials said to hold meetings with PM; justice minister reportedly tells party officials halting process will ‘disappoint coalition partners,’ lead to government’s fall

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (seated) with Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (seated) with Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Unnamed senior ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party have reportedly told the premier and Justice Minister Yariv Levin that efforts to upend the judicial system must stop and talks need to be held on a compromise.

“The whole process was done in the wrong way — under pressure and without explaining it to the public, who don’t understand what is going on,” the unnamed ministers told Channel 12 news on Friday. “It is a very difficult situation.”

“Therefore we need to stop and come to a compromise. It is possible,” the ministers reportedly said.

The report said that while it was the first time the unnamed ministers had spoken in this way to the media, they still were not ready to make the statement in public.

The report noted that the ministers had held private discussions on the matter with Netanyahu and Levin, and that a number of new Knesset members were said to share the concerns of the unnamed senior ministers.

The news outlet said that the ministers believed that the need for judicial overhaul was not the most important issue facing the country at the moment, and that security and economic concerns should be prioritized.

Protesters against the planned judicial overhaul, outside the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, March 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report came days after Likud MKs Yuli Edelstein and Danny Danon issued a joint call with opposition National Unity lawmakers Gadi Eisenkot and Chili Tropper for discussions to be held on the judicial overhaul based on the framework proposed by President Isaac Herzog.

However, Channel 12 said that Levin was showing no sign of budging, and would not freeze the legislation for talks on a potential compromise, while arguing that any halt to the process would eventually lead to the coalition’s downfall.

“Halting the reform would mean watering it down and burying it, and that would lead to the collapse of the government — not immediately but gradually,” Levin was said to have told Likud lawmakers.

Levin reportedly said the legislative blitz would need to continue in order to keep members of the coalition satisfied — an apparent reference to the various aspects of the overhaul package which are demanded by different parties in the government, such as a bill tailored to return Shas leader Aryeh Deri to the cabinet after the High Court of Justice found his twin appointments as health and interior minister “unreasonable in the extreme” due to past criminal offenses.

“Coalitions fall when partners are disappointed,” Levin said, according to the report.

When Herzog first issued a plea to pause the legislative blitz last month to enable dialogue between coalition and opposition on constructive judicial reform, warning that the rifts over the issue were becoming dangerous, Levin declared he would not stop the process for so much as a minute.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Minister of the Interior and Health Aryeh Deri (left), and Justice Minister Yariv Levin (right) during the swearing-in ceremony of the new Israeli government at the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With no sign of the pace of the legislation slowing, tens of thousands of protesters are expected to take to the streets Saturday evening across the country, despite far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir telling police to crack down further on anti-government demonstrators.

The police force came under criticism this week for its rough treatment of protesters in Tel Aviv, including for an officer who hurled a stun grenade into a crowd of people.

The Netanyahu coalition is pushing a dramatic judicial restructuring that would increase government control over the judiciary. Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch, and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

Police use stun grenades during a demonstration against the government’s controversial justice reform bill, in Tel Aviv on March 1, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The plan has drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as the weekly mass protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals, and private companies.

Netanyahu has pushed back against the criticism, saying that the proposals would strengthen democracy rather than hasten its end and that his government was carrying out the will of the people.

The right-religious coalition is likely to call a special Knesset plenum session on Sunday, indicating the government was moving full steam ahead with its legislative plans despite the calls for dialogue.

Though the plenum typically does not convene on Sundays, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana of Netanyahu’s Likud party was planning to hold the special session rather than waiting until parliament usually meets because the Jewish festival of Purim begins Monday evening, according to a Likud source.

Demonstrators block a road and clash with police as they protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

During Sunday’s planned meeting, lawmakers are expected to vote on postponing a March 15 deadline for selecting Knesset representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee, which is in charge of appointing judges. It was not clear why the vote couldn’t be held another day the following week before the deadline.

The proposed restructuring of the judicial panel is a central element in the coalition’s push to shift authorities from the courts to politicians and would give the government effective control over selecting judges.

The bill, which was passed in a first reading last week, redistributes power on the Judicial Selection Committee, ending the current balance that requires agreement between political and professional representatives and instead creating a majority for coalition and government politicians to push through all appointments.

MK Simcha Rothman, head of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, left, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin attend a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The planned early plenum session was denounced by opposition lawmakers.

The coalition is due to work on advancing several other controversial measures next week, including a bill to shield legislation from judicial review, another key plank in the planned judicial shakeup.

Also Sunday, ministers are set to deliberate a Likud-sponsored bill that would allow public servants to more freely receive donations.

The proposal is seemingly aimed at allowing Netanyahu to keep $270,000 that the High Court of Justice has ordered him to return to the estate of his deceased cousin and former benefactor Nathan Milikowsky, on the grounds that the funds were an illicit gift. Netanyahu was supposed to return the funds by February.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara is expected to oppose the measure, according to a Channel 13 news report Thursday.

The proposal has been strongly denounced by an anti-corruption watchdog group.

Justices also ruled last year that a NIS 2 million ($566,000) loan Netanyahu received from real estate mogul Spencer Partrich was a forbidden gift, but could be repaid according to their agreement, with supervision from the state comptroller, since the loan had been approved by the comptroller and attorney general.

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