“The principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Jewish and democratic contours of our state are my guiding lights and I will not allow them to be harmed,” stressed Israeli President Isaac Herzog in a statement.
By Erin Viner
“We are in the grips of a profound disagreement that is tearing our nation apart,” stated the Israeli leader, while warning that the country faces a constitutional crisis over a highly-controversial plan to rein in the judiciary.
The Israeli leader said he is working non-stop to mediate dialogue between the relevant parties.
The major controversy erupted when Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin – backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – presented a sweeping “reform of governance” earlier this month; that would limit Supreme Court rulings against government moves or Knesset laws, while increasing politicians’ input over nominations to the bench.
While proponents of the changes say they will restore balance between the legislative, executive and judiciary, critics believe the proposals threaten the country’s democracy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now in his sixth term, wants to put controls on the Supreme Court, which members of his religious-nationalist coalition accuse of overreach and elitism.
Opponents, who held mass protests in three Israeli cities on Saturday, argue the plans will cripple judicial independence, foster corruption, set back minority rights and deprive Israel’s courts of credibility that helps fend off war-crimes charges abroad.
“This conflict worries me deeply, as it worries many across Israel and the (Jewish) Diaspora,” stated President Herzog.
“I am now focused on … two critical roles that I believe I bear as president at this hour: averting a historic constitutional crisis and stopping the continued rift within our nation,” he underscored.
(See President Herzog’s full statement below).
Netanyahu made no mention of Herzog’s overture during televised remarks at his weekly cabinet meeting yesterday, although he promised to hold a “delving discussion” in a parliamentary review committee where the opposition has representation.
An opinion poll published by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) on Sunday noted that 80% of left-wing Israelis, 62% of centrists, and only 29% of right-wingers expressed trust in the Supreme Court. The survey also revealed that a 55.6% majority believe the court should maintain power to veto laws passed by the Knesset if they contradict principles of democracy.
Israeli Opposition Leader Yair Lapid disputed Netanyahu’s claim that the judicial reforms reflect the views of the general electorate, but said he was open to a measure of reform that would allow change only with a parliamentary super majority.
Whereas Netanyahu, whose coalition controls 64 seats, wants to empower the 120-seat Knesset to override some Supreme Court rulings with a 61-vote majority, Lapid suggested raising that to 70 – that would mandate approval by 10 opposition lawmakers.
President Isaac Herzog’s full remarks
“I wish to take this opportunity to address the events of the hour. We are in the grips of a profound disagreement that is tearing our nation apart. This conflict worries me deeply, as it worries many across Israel and the Diaspora.
The foundations of Israeli democracy, including the justice system, are sacred and we must strictly safeguard them, even at a time of fundamental arguments and debates about the relationship between the different branches of government.
I respect everyone who has been arguing and getting involved, protesting and demonstrating, and I appreciate the public engagement in this important debate. I respect the criticism toward me, but I am now focused on two critical roles that I believe I bear as President at this hour: averting a historic constitutional crisis and stopping the continued rift within our nation.
The Office of the President is perhaps the only place today that enjoys the confidence of all parties and is capable of hosting discussions on the subject in a manner accepted by all—behind closed doors and in open doors.
Over the past week, I have been working full time, by every means, making nonstop efforts with the relevant parties, with the aim of creating wide-reaching, attentive, and respectful discussion and dialogue, which I hope will yield results.
I humbly admit that I am not certain of this endeavor’s success. There is goodwill from the various parties with whom the responsibility lies, but there is still a long way to go and significant gaps remain.
The principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Jewish and democratic contours of our state are my guiding lights and I will not allow them to be harmed.
We have a strong and diverse state and society, which have overcome many challenges before.
I pledge to continue working with all my might, and I hope that we will be able to find the right way to emerge from this difficult crisis, too.”