Israel close to judicial reforms compromise, President Herzog says

'Behind-the-scenes' meetings have made progress amid local and international outcry

Israel's President Isaac Herzog has been calling for unity and calm. AP
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President Isaac Herzog said on Monday that Israel is “closer than ever” to reaching a compromise on the government's deeply controversial judicial reforms that “endanger” democracy.

The plans, which are a key priority of the new government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the most right-wing administration in the country's history, have provoked mass public and international outcry and worries from the security establishment.

Mr Herzog said “behind-the-scenes” meetings were progressing to find an “agreed-upon framework”.

The government says reform is needed to rebalance power, to reduce the influence of what it views as an overly political and powerful judiciary that is anti-right wing.

Mr Herzog will issue a more detailed plan in the coming days, Israel's Channel 12 reported.

Government plans for the judiciary include a new “override clause” that would allow parliament to relegislate — by simple majority — laws that the Supreme Court rejects and give the government control over the selection of judges.

Other reforms include allowing ministers to select their own legal advisers, ending a previous arrangement whereby such counsel would come from the Justice Ministry.

Mr Herzog has tried to position himself as a mediating figure as the country's politicians entrench themselves and the government vows to press ahead despite calls from the opposition to halt the process for the sake of national unity.

He gave a loose indication that the meetings are working on creating “constitutional foundations” — in a country that does not have a constitution.

Politically diversifying the judiciary and protecting the independence of the courts are among other areas of discussion, which have been guided with the help of a panel of academic experts.

Opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz responded with a joint statement.

“In order to have honest and effective dialogue that will lead to preserving democracy and national unity, [Mr Netanyahu] must announce a complete, comprehensive and actual halt to the legislative process,” they said. “All attempts at shortcuts are a violation of real communication.”

On Sunday, the head of Israel's army sounded the alarm over mass walkouts by military reservists in response to the judicial reforms. The warning came after 37 out of 40 reserve pilots in an elite air force squadron said they would boycott a training session in opposition to the plans.

All 10 living former heads of Israel's air force signed an open letter on Monday to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister saying they were concerned about what such walkouts would mean for the country's defence.

Major concerns have also been raised by figures within the country's special forces and cyber security community.

A politician from the Prime Minister's Likud party told reservists on Monday that they can “go to hell” over threats not to report for duty.

Updated: March 07, 2023, 8:41 AM