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President Herzog mediating judicial reform

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What happened: President Isaac Herzog held a series of meetings last night at his private home in Tel Aviv with leaders of the opposition and one of the main proponents of the proposed reforms.

  • He first met with Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid. Following the meeting Lapid thanked the president for his efforts and highlighted, “the importance of reaching broad consensus and preventing a split among the people.”
  • He then met with MK Simcha Rothman, the chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. He also thanked the president for, “his willingness to work day and night to reach broad consensus on repairing the justice system.”
  • The final meeting last night was with MK Benny Gantz, the leader of the National Unity Party. He said afterwards, “I presented the president with the central tenets of the necessary reform. First, the legislation  must stop, the justice system must not be politicised and we must promote a comprehensive step that includes passing Basic Law: Legislation and arrange the balance between the branches.”
  • Earlier this week Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Justice Minister Levin for four hours late into the night. However Netanyahu did not issue any statement, as formally he must avoid involvement in judicial reform due to a conflict of interests.

Context: The sides agreed to meet with the president but not yet for direct talks. The opposition are demanding the legislative process be frozen to allow for talks, whilst the government has called for talks with no preconditions.

  • The talks followed a mass protest rally outside the Knesset on Monday, which saw an estimated over 100,000 Israelis protesting against the proposed changes.
  • On Sunday the president presented his compromise proposals. Some of which may be acceptable to both sides. For example, when it comes to legislating basic laws (which form the foundation of Israel’s unwritten constitution) they could agree to add a fourth vote. Three readings (like a regular law) by the incumbent Knesset and another in the Knesset that is elected after it.
  • Another possible compromise relates to the courts use of “reasonability.” Instead of removing it completely its scope could be defined and reduced.
  • There currently seems to be no consensus on changes to the makeup of the Judges Selection Committee, with the coalition continuing to demand changes that give the government a built-in majority. However, they could accept that one of the two public figures who sit on the committee be chosen by the president of the Supreme Court.
  • Regarding the override clause, Rothman is so far unwilling to show any flexibility and is insisting on a 61-vote majority override clause.
  • Behind the scenes there is speculation that not all Likud MKs agree with the proposed changes and although they are not speaking out publicly, they are also not defending it either.
  • There is also concern over the economic impact of the changes.  The heads of Israeli banks warned Finance Minister Smotrich, “money is leaving Israel at a rate that is ten times faster than in normal times” and called for a halt to the reform legislation.
  • Netanyahu has also sought to allay the fears of the big international banks, particularly how the reforms may effect Israel’s credit rating.
  • Ultimately, despite his own legal predicament, it may be Netanyahu himself who will insist the proposed changes are moderated.

Looking ahead: In parallel the “second Deri bill” which prevents the courts ability to interfere on ministerial appointments is expected to be voted on later today.

  • The first reading on two bills relating to the makeup of the judges selection committee and preventing the High Court to rule on basic laws, have been postponed till next week.
  • Aides to the president have expressed “cautious optimism” that a compromise can still be found.