Israel’s far-right government is set to press ahead with a judicial reform law in parliament on Monday that has been a major cause of widespread protests in the country, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdraws after his medical complications.
Netanyahu was also back in the house after pacemaker surgery – officers outside the Knesset used water cannons against protesters.
President Isaac Herzog also warned that “we are in a national emergency”, as he mediates a settlement for the weekly mass protests that have been going on for half a year.
According to critics, the proposed judicial changes would destroy the country’s liberal democracy by removing checks and balances on the executive, while the government argues that “judicial redundancy needs to be curbed”.
The 73-year-old prime minister arrived in parliament where lawmakers began the session for a final vote on a bill that would limit the ability of judges to overrule government decisions they do not consider “fair”.
His coalition government – which is far right – includes ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. They argue that reforms are necessary to ensure a better balance of power.
As the crisis appeared to be peaking, with Israel’s traditional ally Washington reiterating concerns about political turmoil, Biden urged Israeli leaders to postpone the vote.
“From the perspective of Israel’s friends in America, it appears that the current judicial reform proposal is becoming more divisive, not less,” he said in a statement he shared. AFP,
“There is no point in rushing this for Israeli leaders – the focus should be on bringing people together and building a consensus.”
resolved to continue
President Herzog arrived in Israel after his trip to Washington, and visited Netanyahu’s hospital room on Sunday, in a last-minute attempt to broker a settlement.
Amid what he called Israel’s “national emergency”, Herzog warned that “there are foundations of understanding, but loopholes that demand the parties show responsibility still remain”.
Netanyahu said on Sunday afternoon that “we are continuing our efforts to fulfill the law, and trying to do it in agreement with the opposition”.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the driving force behind the reforms, said changes had already been made to the bill to accommodate critics, but added that the ruling coalition was still open to “compromise”.
“Saneness also means the opposition’s willingness to make concessions,” he told supporters at a Tel Aviv rally on Sunday.
Opponents have accused Netanyahu – who has been charged with corruption in court – of conflict of interest, and some protesters have dubbed him the “crime minister”.
“Today, the first law that will begin to dismantle Israel’s democracy will likely be passed,” said Schaaf Kushinsky, a 34-year-old high-tech activist protesting near parliament.
“It would in essence give unlimited power to the government. … It is a gateway to dictatorship and that is why we are here. We are fighting for our democracy.”
Big role in Judiciary if approved
If approved, the “rationality” clause would be the first major component of the reform package to become law.
Other proposed changes include giving more powers to the government in the appointment of judges.
The protests have received support from across the political spectrum and from secular and religious groups, blue-collar and tech sector workers, peace activists and military reservists.
The political battle over judicial reform comes against a backdrop of escalating Palestinian-Israeli violence.
Tali Gal, a protester opposing the justice package, said she was rallying against the “forces of darkness”.
“We are defending our democracy with our bodies,” said Gall, a 52-year-old law professor.
“The plan is to do whatever is possible, to send a message to the world that we need an intervention now, any intervention, to stop this.”