Israeli opposition blasts 'liar' Netanyahu's promise to shelve judicial overhaul

Prime Minister tells Bloomberg controversial reforms on appointment of judges will still go ahead

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has played down fears that Israel is on the brink of civil war. Reuters
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is "gaslighting" the international community over his controversial plans to overhaul the country's judicial system, according to a spokesman for Israel's vast anti-government protest movement.

Mr Netanyahu said in an interview with Bloomberg on Sunday his government would advance major reforms on how judges are selected but subsequent proposals put forward by members of his coalition "should not be legislated".

His comments came after the coalition passed the first in a series of the proposed reforms, which opposition parties and the largest protest movement in Israeli history say will deal a deathblow to democracy. Reforming the committee that appoints judges, the next phase of the overhaul, is viewed by many Israelis as the government's most drastic proposal.

But Mr Netanyahu tried to play down fears that Israel is on the brink of civil war, describing mass protests, military reservist walkouts and strikes in recent months as "the natural conflict between two opposing views that have not yet meshed, but they will mesh".

Josh Drill, a spokesman for the protest movement, told The National Mr Netanyahu made his comments in "the hope of quieting [the international community's] concerns just long enough to ram through his dictatorial agenda".

"But no carefully crafted spin can change the fact that moving forward with the crux of the judicial overhaul – changing the make-up of the judicial selection committee – isn’t Netanyahu pulling back but rather ramping up his push for regime change," he added.

In a string of recent interviews with foreign media outlets, Mr Netanyahu has consistently emphasised he continues to try to reach out to opponents for compromise.

However, opposition negotiators say his coalition has not been serious in its efforts to reach a deal.

In response to the Prime Minister's interview with Bloomberg, opposition party Yesh Atid, which has been involved in compromise negotiations, said his comments showed "weakness and lies".

Analyst Dahlia Scheindlin told The National Mr Netanyahu remained committed to passing the reforms, arguing that he has "presided over a 15-year attack on the legitimacy of the Israeli judiciary".

"He has advanced figures within his party who have advocated vociferously for this kind of overhaul. Once the government was established, he threw his political weight behind it."

Mr Netanyahu also addressed fears the content of the reforms and the division they are causing would damage Israel's economy, describing recent investor concerns as "noise in the short-term markets".

Economist David Rosenberg told The National the country's economy was "performing well", bar its vital tech sector, "which is being as much influenced by the global tech slump as it is by local factors, [which include] higher inflation due to the weaker shekel and the poor performance of the financial markets".

On whether further turbulence is to come, Mr Rosenberg said: "Far from helping to reduce the uncertainty factor, Mr Netanyahu's interview with Bloomberg probably made it worse."

"He is saying all the fighting and political tensions will continue in the months ahead. Meanwhile, the economic costs will continue to pile up.

"And, of course, that is only if you take Netanyahu at his word and that the overhaul will end there. Experience shows that would be a mistake."

Updated: August 07, 2023, 12:03 PM