Breaking: Netanyahu addresses the nation. UPDATE: analysis

Just heard him speak: he spoke nice phrases in beautiful Hebrew about how he understands the fears of the other side, etc. And the need for each side to listen to the other, says “people who oppose the reforms are not traitors, and people in favor are not fascists”, but mostly makes hollow promises except one thing:

* “explains” why the changes in the judicial appointments committee are essential

* makes a vague promises that he will not let it happen that the Knesset can ride roughshod over the Supreme Court with 61 votes

* makes vague promises that his coalition will not only not violate the rights of minorities etc. But will anchor individual rights into law

* the only concrete item: that he was until now forced to recuse himself (further to a legal opinion of the Attorney-General) from directly intervening in the judicial issue (as his corruption trials represent a conflict of interest) but from now on will not stand aside anymore and intervene directly

Attila Somfalvi of YNet, himself right-leaning: “He’s trying to be half-pregnant”.

UPDATE: Ben-Dror Yemini on YNet (in Hebrew), hardly a pomo leftist: “it is clear that the country can fall apart as far as Netanyahu is concerned, as long as his narrow personal interest [i.e., staying PM] is satisfied”

Carrie Keller-Lynn in the Times of Israel:

The prime minister attempted to strike a conciliatory tone in his speech, acknowledging that both proponents and opponents of the legislation have valid concerns and saying he would take actions to address both. But he also confirmed that his government will not pause its legislative sprint and will seek to pass next week on one of the most important elements of the plan — a bill to put key Supreme Court appointments directly in coalition control.

“The law that will pass next week in the Knesset is a law that does not control the court — it balances and diversifies it,” he asserted. “It opens the doors of the court to views and publics and vast sectors that hitherto were excluded from it.”

Law professor Bryan Schwartz disagrees:

But the mistake that old generals often make is “fighting the last war”.

The right wing has been in power, almost without interruption, for a long time.  A quote for Ayelet Shaked, after she succeeded in 2017 in having three of her preferred candidates appointed to the High Court:  “ In the past, there were sectors [of the public] who did not feel that the Supreme Court represented them. Today, it represents everyone. It is more diverse, it is more conservative”.

In any event, the way to deal with any previous excesses in one direction is not to “balance” them with excesses in the other direction.

The quality of the High Court will not be improved by giving the current executive the ability to effectively determine the next two appointees, and then determine the next chief justice.   Even the  Coalition proposals implicitly acknowledges that this “two plus one”  system for the next two appointments is suspect.   How is that? Because even the  “two plus one” proposal is presented as an interim measure only.  […] t what legitimacy will the first two appointees have if they are widely seen as plants of the current government?

What credibility could the next chief justice have?

It is never enough that the exercise of judicial authority simply be correct from a technical perspective.   Justice must also be “seen to be done”.   People in Israel – and a suspicious and often hostile international community – have to be given strong reason to believe that the courts in Israel are truly independent rather than a tentacle of executive power.

Back to Keller-Lyinn:

In apparent defiance of the attorney general, the prime minister indicated he would henceforth ignore his conflict of interest deal to jump deep into the overhaul legislation hitherto shepherded by Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the cabinet and Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman in the Knesset.

The 2020 deal forbade Netanyahu from involving himself in the overhaul due to his ongoing corruption trial. Netanyahu’s announcement came hours after the Knesset passed a law to shield him from being removed from office for breaking its boundaries.

Making overtures to critics of the coalition’s curtailment of judicial authority, the prime minister said a planned bill to allow the government to override High Court rulings will be amended to require a somewhat higher — but unspecified — threshold of votes than the previously announced 61.

He also vowed to include in the plan action to enshrine protections for individual rights, many of which are currently set to remain unprotected if the court’s powers are curtailed.

Note: she refers to a number of these rights currently being protected by jurisprudence (precedents, etc.) but not by statutory law.

“I plan to defend individual rights, I will guarantee the rights of every citizen of Israel,” he said, vowing that “all legislation will be obligated to these [individual right] principles,” and that “we plan to bring detailed legislation on this, I personally will see to it happening.”

But if Netanyahu’s speech had been intended to calm or appease the opposition to his government, it quickly became clear it had done nothing of the sort.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid assailed the premier, tweeting shortly after Netanyahu’s remarks that the speech was “disconnected” [from reality, NA] and “full of lies.”

“Netanyahu chose tonight to ignore his defense minister, important intelligence that arrived at his table, tens of thousands of reserve soldiers and an economic crisis,” Lapid wrote, adding that Netanyahu’s actions constituted “a lack of national responsibility” and “a blow to state security.”

Anti-government protest organizers said demonstrations would only “intensify.”

“Today we saw a bizarre display by a dictator-in-the-making who, instead of stopping and shelving the legislation, is rushing to appoint judges and engage in a hostile takeover of the Supreme Court,” the organizers said.

“The way to prevent a rift in the nation is to abolish all the laws of the dictatorship. Any calls for negotiations while the legislation advances are illegitimate. ”

National Unity leader Benny Gantz said Netanyahu was failing to “rise to the occasion.”

“But the barrier of silence [in Likud] began to crack today,” he added. Gantz has been holding talks with coalition MKs in Likud and ultra-Orthodox parties, including with Gallant, in a bid to convince them to oppose the legislation in its current form.

“Stop, and we will talk. There are no losers in holding a dialogue, there is only one winner: the State of Israel,” he said.

TOI editor-in-chief David Horowitz sees Netanyahu crushing a potential mini-revolt in his own ranks through damage control, but not offering any concession of substance:

But ultimately, Netanyahu, who assembled this unprecedentedly hardline Israeli coalition, and appointed [Yariv] Levin to lead this unprecedented legislative offensive against Israeli democracy, opted to hold to his extreme course. He showed himself undeterred by the mounting protests, the warnings from within and without of economic chaos, and, most dangerously, the concern conveyed by his defense minister that the cohesion, solidarity and shared sense of purpose in Israel’s security forces are being shattered.

If he had wanted a ladder to climb down, this was it — championing national security above a radical, destructive agenda; heeding his defense minister’s warning at the expense of his centerpiece legislation. But yet again, Netanyahu showed how skewed his priorities have become.

Now let me add my own two cents (or seven agorot, at current exchange rates): yes, I was deeply disappointed, and hysteria aside, I do have a feeling that Netanyahu’s only priority at this point is hanging on to his chair at all cost, hoping his skill at extinguishing short-term fires will somehow allow him to carry on.

However, at this point which aspects of the hasty “reform” he prioritizes, and which he regards as sacrificial (the thrice-damned “override clause”).

Before the speech, both Shas (the “Sephardic” ultra-Orthodox party) and the non-Chasidic “Torah Flag” faction of its Ashkenazi counterpart UTJ had announced they would follow Netanyahu in whatever he decides. In their case, the “holding by the beitzim” may be less one-sided than with what I call “the pyromaniacs” (Yariv Levin, Smotrich, Ben-Gvir, Struck): Shas and UTJ know that if Netanyahu is forced into new elections by a revolt of Likud moderates, they may end up with a secularist government that will further “cramp their style”, now with an added element of vindictiveness.

I can see Netanyahu ram through this judicial appointments law, hail this as a major victory, and then let everything else — including the individual rights legislation he vaguely promised — be buried in endless committee discussions.

UPDATE: Yair Lapid, whom I’m not a great fan of, provocatively called Yariv Levin “the true Prime Minister”.

“That’s it, the masks are off. The gun is on the table,” Lapid tweeted. “The real prime minister, Yariv Levin, is drawing us into total chaos and a constitutional crisis we won’t be able to come back from. If the justice minister is calling on the government not to obey the law, why should the citizens of Israel obey the government?”

The same article quotes a law professor saying thsi crisis could be turned into a opportunity — for Israel to create a full written constitution rather than a patchwork of basic laws and Supreme Court jurisprudence, as it has now.

Some more personal remarks: with hindsight, there are two people from the previous government who have a lot to answer for, one from the left, and one from the right.

Left: Then-Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz whose know-it-all insistence that bringing non-kosher-for-Passover food into hospitals during Passover was more important than retaining the coalition’s flimsy majority.

Right: Jewish Home co-leader Ayelet Shaked, who blocked the passing of a term limits law on the grounds that it was “a personal law against Netanyahu”. Some of my colleagues speculated at the time that she was setting herself up for a plum position in a future Netanyahu government; in fact, she quit politics altogether, and is now the chairman of the board of a large real estate company.

UPDATE 2: Elliot Abrams and Eric Cohen from the Tikvah fund weigh in in the Jerusalem Post.

UPDATE 3: on a tangentially related (via “TikTok clown” Ben-Gvir) subject: it’s hardly news to me that TikTok is CCP spyware, but now The Federalist listing just three reasons emerging from yesterday’s hearings why to avoid the app like the bubonic plague. (Hat tip: editor-in-chief Mollie Ziegler Hemingway’s twitter feed.)

UPDATE 4: “Will Netanyahu’s Darwinian survival instinct kick in?” wonders Tal Shalev.

And Yedidia Stern, a law professor from the religiously Orthodox Bar-Ilan University, takes the words out of my mouth

Israelis tend to be conservative. Unlike large swathes of the Western world, Israel celebrates family, community, and tradition. Israeli society ranks high up on the World Happiness Index (fourth place in 2023), among other things, because of these qualities. The Israeli is not an isolated atom rattling around a neutral public space, but rather “part” of a greater whole in which he feels “at home” – part of the ongoing “story” of an ancient people that transmits its legacy to the entire world.

According to its website, the Israeli conservative movement professes that its aim is to “translate the conservative, wise, and sober insights of Israelis into a clear language, and an intellectually coherent teaching translatable into a calculated public policy.” 

These are things that speak to the heart, but do they speak to the revolutionary reality that is robbing us all of sleep? Is this jaw-dropping revolution a “calculated public policy?”

My fellow conservatives, if you are sincere in your beliefs, you must immediately denounce the governmental plan. Even if you think that the millions of citizens in opposition (including a quarter of Likud voters) misunderstand the initiative known as the “Levin Reform,” you must respect the fact that this is how your brothers feel.

Even if you believe that the tsunami approaching our shores is to be blamed on the opposition, which has shaken the earth beneath our feet to satisfy political ambitions, it does not matter. Your very conservatism should dampen the self-confidence that justifies this radical change to the Israeli status quo – this headlong “rush to the spoils.”


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