Legislation advances, whilst waiting for President Herzog’s compromise proposal


What happened: The government pressed ahead with its judicial reform agenda this week, as the Knesset Plenum and Law, Constitution and Justice Committee voted in favour of various aspects of the reforms.

  • In the Plenum, a first reading vote was passed on the Override Clause bill, an amendment of Basic Law: The Judiciary allowing the Knesset to re-legislate any law that was struck down by the Supreme Court with a 61-seat majority.
  • The bill further states that the Supreme Court will only be able to strike down laws as being in clear violation of existing Basic Laws, and then only with a 12 out of 15 vote majority, and with all 15 judges hearing the case.
  • The Knesset also passed in its first reading the Incapacitation bill, which stipulates that only the government and the prime minister themselves can remove a sitting prime minister for reasons of incapacitation.
  • Likud MK David Amsalem also tabled two bills earlier this week, both of which would protect the prime minister and other senior officials from criminal investigation.
  • Amid the government’s legislative blitz, its opponents have signalled their ongoing determination. Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman on Monday convened a meeting with three other opposition party leaders: Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, and Merav Michaeli. They later released a statement saying “As long as the legislative process is not stopped, this is a sham. If, God forbid, we get as far as holding a third vote, we will not lend a hand to this. We will boycott the vote on the Knesset floor.”
  • There continue to be voices emerging from within the Likud urging Netanyahu to overrule hard-line cabinet colleagues like Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Law, Justice and Constitution committee chair Simcha Rothman in favour of a compromise.
  • Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, meanwhile, stayed away from the two Knesset votes and announced that he would not be voting with his party and government.

Context: Continuing with progress on the override clause, in particular, is a challenge to the compromise efforts being spearheaded by President Herzog.

  • Details of elements discussed by Herzog and his advisory group leaked last week, while his formal proposal is expected to be made public in the coming days.
  • The coalition had been expected to wait to hold the votes until after Herzog’s proposals were released. However, ultra-Orthodox factions anxious that his proposals will include provisions concerning military conscription for their constituents wanted to pre-empt the president by limiting the judiciary’s ability to intervene on that issue.
  • Herzog met yesterday with a delegation of 24 Israeli business leaders, including the CEOs of Israel’s banks, and heard their concerns over the likely financial impact of the reforms.
  • Herzog confirmed that he would not again call for suspension of the reform process to allow for compromise negotiations, having already tried to do so three times without success.
  • Meanwhile, the Kohelet Forum, the right-wing thinktank credited with providing the intellectual foundation for the reforms, publicly urged compromise yesterday.
  • The opposition have continued to refuse to engage whist the legislative process continues. Instead it has been speculated that Likud MKs have suggested the government make unilateral concessions to dilute the public protests. Such compromises could include cancelling the proposed override clause.
  • At Monday’s Likud faction meeting, concern was expressed over the damage done to the party brand by the standoff. “The other side is dictating the agenda and is in control of the streets—and we’ve got nothing,” said one high-ranking Likud figure, while Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar said: “I feel that they’re beating us. We’re going to lose the leadership and return to the frozen [wasteland] of the opposition. We were there for two years and it was really cold. We’re marching there because we’re letting them win and aren’t doing anything to fight back.”
  • A so-called Likud “Plan B” is being discussed, providing limited compromise from Levin and Rothman’s positions but falling well short of the demands of opponents.
  • Under the plan, the government’s proposed majority on the Judges Selection Committee and the barring of the Supreme Court from striking down Basic Laws would be retained.
  • Reports indicate that Netanyahu has asked close confidant and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer to be his emissary in closed-door meetings on a judicial reform compromise.
  • For violating coalition discipline, coalition chair Ofir Katz informed Edelstein that he was banned from introducing private member’s bills and motions and from speaking in the name of the Likud for three weeks.
  • Amsalem’s first legislation would prevent the Attorney General from questioning a prime minister under caution, except for the offences of “sex crimes, violence, security breaches or drugs,” or where “delaying that questioning could cause significant security or economic damage.” The second would repeal the crimes of fraud and breach of public trust.
  • Protests have continued, in advance of Thursday’s planned day of “escalated resistance”. Some 500 demonstrators gathered outside Edelstein’s Herzliya home, while crowds also protested at Finance Committee chairman and UTJ MK Moshe Gafni’s house in Bnei Brak.
  • Meanwhile, 42 former attorneys general and legal advisers to government ministries wrote yesterday offering support to current Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara. She has been threatened with the sack by senior members of the government in recent weeks, with her role seen as being at risk of having its powers curtailed.

Looking ahead: Netanyahu leaves for Berlin today for meetings with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other German officials. Protesters are likely to look to disrupt his journey.

  • Tomorrow is set to see further widespread demonstrations against the government and its reform agenda, in a day of “escalated resistance”.
  • President Herzog’s compromise proposal is likely to be made public in the next few days.
  • A committee vote is expected today on the “Deri 2” bill which seeks to limit the authority of the courts to intervene on ministerial appointments.