March 2. 2024. 3:34

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‘It needs to disappear from the world’: Israeli president hits out at judicial overhaul plan

Israeli president Yitzhak Herzog has spoken out publicly against the radical judicial overhaul being pushed through the Knesset parliament by Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government. Opponents claim the overhaul will undermine Israeli democracy.

In a live television address to the nation, Mr Herzog said the legislation being advanced was wrong, destructive, an affront to Israel’s democratic values and must be replaced. He described this as a watershed moment, warning of an impending disaster.

“The legislation, as it is now, needs to disappear from the world,” Mr Herzog said. “Our democracy is a value, an independent judiciary is a value, the rights of the minorities, gender equality are our values.”

The president of Israel plays a largely ceremonial role, and Mr Herzog’s comments mark an unprecedented intervention by a president in a contentious policy issue being pursued by a government.


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It followed another day of mass protests across the country on Thursday by opponents of the judicial changes, with major highways being blocked. Protests on approach roads to Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport forced Mr Netanyahu to travel to the airport by police helicopter ahead of his flight to Rome for a three-day official visit.

The proposed changes will bar the high court of justice from oversight of key laws and will change the composition of the judges’ selection committee, giving the government a majority of at least five out of its nine members. Ministers will also be able to overrule the advice of legal advisers.

Proponents of the plan argue it will realign the system of checks and balances that has given the courts and government legal advisers too much say in how legislation is crafted and decisions are made.

Critics say it will concentrate power in the hands of the prime minister. They also say that Mr Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has a conflict of interest.

Mr Herzog has been in contact for weeks with politicians and legal experts in an effort to start a dialogue to reach a compromise acceptable to both sides. Both the government and the opposition have expressed a willingness to talk but the opposition insists that the parliamentary passage of the legislation must be suspended while the dialogue takes place. Justice minister Yariv Levin, from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, has rejected such a demand.

Mr Herzog has yet to outline the details of his draft compromise but said the gaps had been reduced substantially and that consensus had been reached on a majority of issues. He called on the coalition and the opposition to choose between Israel and its citizens or their egos and narrow political interests, saying that there was one choice: either a solution or a disaster. “Take responsibility, immediately,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu said that he welcomed all initiatives, including Mr Herzog’s, so that the sides could reach an agreement “as brothers and sisters”. However, there was no indication that the legislation will be put on hold and the Knesset will continue voting next week on the plan.