Israel’s judicial overhaul causes rift in Netanyahu’s Likud party

Middle East Monitor  /  March 26, 2023

Controversial judicial changes proposed by the Israeli government have caused divisions inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, local media reported on Sunday, Anadolu reports.

Israel has seen mass protests over the past three months against plans by the Israeli government for judicial reforms.

While Netanyahu insists the reforms would enhance democracy, the opposition considers them an attempt to shrink the powers of the judicial authority in favor of the executive.

On Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a Likud member, called on the government to halt the judicial overhaul, in a major blow to Netanyahu’s plans.

The Likud Party is the largest bloc in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), with 32 members in the 120-seat assembly.

Likud member Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, called for slowing down the reform plans.

“The majority of the people want and understand the need for changes in the judicial system, but this must be done with patience, dialogue, and broad discourse in order to reach a broad consensus,” Yedioth Ahronoth daily quoted him as saying.

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter also called for suspending the judicial plans for one month to avoid an unprecedented rift in society.

MK David Bitan was also among Likud members to call on Netanyahu to temporarily halt his plans for judicial overhaul.

Supporters of the reforms, however, have called for the sacking of any members opposing the plans.

Senior Likud member Ofir Kats said whoever doesn’t vote in favor of the judicial overhaul has “ended his career in the Likud.”

He told Israeli Channel 14 that the country’s defense minister was mistaken in calling for a pause on the plans.

The planned changes would severely limit the power of the Supreme Court of Justice, give the government the power to choose judges, and end the appointment of legal advisers to ministries by the attorney general.

If enacted, the reforms would be the most radical changes ever to the Israeli system of government.


Party pressure mounts on Netanyahu to pause judicial overhaul

Middle East Monitor  /  March 26, 2023

A top lawmaker from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party echoed on Sunday a call by the defence chief to pause a contested judicial overhaul, and raised the possibility that the government’s parliamentary majority could be eroded, Reuters reports.

Dissent from the premier’s own party and cabinet has compounded months of unprecedented mass protests by Israelis who fear the package of reforms could endanger court independence.

Netanyahu, who is on trial on graft charges that he denies, says the overhaul will balance out the branches of government.

A key bill effectively giving his religious-nationalist coalition more control over the appointment of judges is expected to be brought ratification this week in the Knesset, where he and his allies wield 64 out of 120 seats.

But how – or even whether – that as yet-unscheduled vote will proceed has been thrown into question by Likud dissenters.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, a Likud lawmaker, broke ranks on Saturday by publicly urging Netanyahu to suspend legislation for a month. He said countrywide protests against the overhaul, which have included growing numbers of military reservists, were also affecting regular forces and undermining national security.

“I will not facilitate this,” Gallant said in his televised remarks, hinting that, should the ratification vote nonetheless be held this week, he might abstain.

On Sunday, Yuli Edelstein, a Likud lawmaker who heads the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, also called for a pause to the overhaul to enable discussion and revisions.

Asked in an interview whether he would otherwise abstain or vote against the looming bill, he did not answer directly but cited his sitting out of Knesset sessions earlier this month.

“I need to remind you that when they didn’t listen to me in Likud and ignored my call for dialogue, I wasn’t at the first reading of these bills,” Edelstein told Israel’s Army Radio.

“We don’t want to bury the reforms,” he added, but “bringing it to a vote before it is clear that there is support for it would be adventurism that is best avoided”.

Gallant’s statement was welcomed by senior Likud lawmaker David Bitan. A junior Likud lawmaker, Eli Dalal, spoke last week in favour of suspending the legislation. But it was not clear if they or others in Likud might abstain in a ratification vote.

Netanyahu, who returned early on Sunday from a visit to London, did not immediately comment on the dissent in his party. But a pro-reform Likud lawmaker, Tally Gotliv, sounded unfazed.

“We have 62 (‘ayes’), and even if someone else doesn’t turn up we will have 61. The vote will happen this week,” she told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM.