President Herzog urges dialogue over judicial reform


What happened: President Herzog presented five principles for dialogue about the proposed reform, with the goal of reaching a “broad agreement.”

  • As a first stage he called for the government to show restraint in passing the new legislation in its first reading. In fact prior to his speech last night, Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced he was delaying the vote, scheduled for this afternoon till next Wednesday.
  • The president’s second principle relates to the court’s workload and the unfavourable ratio of judges to citizens. He said the drawn out processes, “damaged efficiency, quality and public trust in the system.”
  • The president agreed with reformers in criticising the lack of diversity among the judiciary, saying “The fact that there aren’t enough Mizrahi (Jews of eastern origin) justices on the Supreme Court has troubled me for many years.”
  • Relating to the government’s plans to change the Judges Selection Committee, the President said the changes should reflect equality among all parts of Israeli society. He proposed that none of the three branches of government should enjoy and automatic majority on the committee, and that each one should instead have equal representation, as well as public representatives who are to be chosen in an agreement between the justice minister and the Supreme Court president.
  • The president also spoke about grounds of reasonability, saying, “There is room for use of those grounds, which today is restricted to cases of extreme unreasonableness. I believe that the parties can and need to reach a broad agreement on that issue too.”
  • In response to the speech Justice Minister Levin said, “The president’s proposal contains positive elements, and it has elements that perpetuate the improper existing situation. As I have said the entire time, I am prepared and wish to engage in genuine dialogue with the members of the opposition who agree to that,” however added, “no linkage should be made between dialogue and moving forward with the legislative process.”

Context: The President believes the five principles above are the starting point, with the emphasis on maintaining unity within the country.

  • For further background on the proposed reforms read our explainer here 
  • For the sixth week running protesters demonstrated in Tel Aviv and across the country on Saturday night. Protest organisers claimed overall 250,000 people participated in the demonstrations.
  • Over the weekend more groups sent letters and issued statements warning against aspects of the reforms. Former heads of the National Security Council wrote to the Speaker of the Knesset warning, “that the force of the societal and political clash is endangering Israel’s social resilience.” They called on the leaders of coalition and opposition parties, “to enter into serious talks without preconditions and to them to reach an agreement on the powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.” Notable among the signatories was Yossi Cohen who went on to lead the Mossad and is considered a close ally of the prime minister. Similarly, Yaakov Amidror and Yaakov Nagel – both of whom have also worked closely with Netanyahu – were also among the eleven signatories.
  • A group of 18 Retired Supreme Court justices’ released a harsher statement, calling the proposed changes, “a serious threat not only to the justice system but also to the substance of the regime and to our way of life, and especially to the possibility of defending the basic rights of every individual in a fair and effective way. We feel we have a responsibility to warn about this danger before it comes to pass. The changes that have been presented are causing a serious and dangerous polarisation in society and they could bring disaster on Israel.”
  • In addition a group of seven Nobel Prize winners also released a letter suggesting the proposed changes would “have clear negative impacts on research and institutions of higher education, which are the country’s economic and security engine and ensure its ongoing existence.” Their letter noted that “countries where the political regime set the agenda for research and higher education”, such as Turkey, Poland and Hungary, “lost their scientific excellence.”
  • Four rockets were fired this morning out of the Gaza Strip. One landed in an open field and the other three exploded in mid-air, without being intercepted. No one was injured and no damage was caused.
  • In retaliation, IDF tanks attacked Hamas military positions on the Gaza border. Earlier Israeli Air Force targeted an underground rocket factory in the central Gaza Strip. That attack was carried out in retaliation for the rocket that was fired and intercepted on Saturday.

Looking ahead: Leaders of the protest movements are today holding widespread strikes.

  • This morning a mass prayer “to save democracy” is being held at the Western Wall.
  • The main protest will be outside the Knesset, at 1200 (local time) it is expected to continue throughout the day and will include a mix of speeches and musical performances, with tens of thousands expected to attend.
  • Inside the Knesset the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will hold it vote today on a bill changing the composition of the Judges Selection Committee and to deny the High Court of Justice ability to intervene or reject basic laws. The first reading in the Plenum will be delayed till next week.