Yesterday evening, President of the State of Israel Isaac Herzog called upon the coalition to refrain from raising the legislation embodying its planned reforms to the system of justice in Israel for first reading in the Knesset. In a speech from the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Herzog called for dialogue under his auspices on the reform, and said that as it stands the proposed reform represented a danger to the principles of democracy in Israel.
"We are the height of a fateful period. In the past few weeks, I have done everything in my power to bring about broad agreement. If just one side wins, we all lose. The State of Israel will lose," Herzog said at the beginning of his speech.
"Millions of people are asking for one thing - not to march into the chasm. For a long time now we have not been engaged in a political debate, but have been on the verge of constitutional collapse. We stand a moment before a collision, even a violent collision. I beseech, I implore you: violence of any kind is a red line that we not cross on any account. In a choice between disintegration and partnership, I choose partnership," he added.
"The elected government has the right to implement policy. The relationships between the branches of government rest on checks and balances. Reform can also be a basis for growth and welcome change. No branch of government should become ossified.
"The judicial branch must be a home for all of Israeli society. For example, I am very concerned at the lack of diversity and of representation of people of Mizrahi origin on the Supreme Court.
"The proposed reform did not arise out of nothing. It is the result of a camp that feels that an imbalance has developed between the branches and that borders have been trespassed over the years. This pain is genuine and it would be a great mistake to ignore it. On the other hand, the duty to listen and to feel they pain of all parts of the nation lies primarily on those who hold power at this time.
"I believe that parts of the reform in its present format give rise to deep fears at their potential deleterious effect on the democratic principles of the State of Israel," Herzog said. "There are millions of people here who see the reform as a concrete threat to Israeli democracy. They fear that will be no-one left who will protect the citizen from the power of the regime. To ignore that would be a great mistake."
Five principles for compromise
"It is possible to reach broad consensus that will place the citizens of Israel above all controversy. It’s possible," Herzog said. The president set out a compromise formula of his own embodying five principles, among four readings in the Knesset for basic laws, and cancelation of the ability of the Supreme Court to annul basic laws. "A basic law on legislation should be passed setting out the relationship between the Knesset and the court," he explained.
The other principles the Herzog described are: narrowing the scope of the reasonability test for administrative decisions; a change in the composition of the judicial selection committee; expanding the number of judges; and making the justice system more efficient.
Herzog pointed out that the number of judges per hundred thousand people is only about a third of the number in the other OECD countries, and called on the government, in cooperation with the president of the Supreme Court, solve this problem, and the next budget should contain measures to close the gap in the long term. Similarly, he called on the minister of justice and the president of the Supreme Court to agree on a plan to be presented to the government to make the courts more efficient and cut delays in the hearing of cases, as away of restoring public faith in the justice system.
On judicial appointments, Herzog said that all three branches of government, the executive, the Knesset, and the judiciary should have equal representation on the judicial appointments committee, the Knesset representatives including representatives of the opposition chosen by the opposition. He said there should also be representatives of the public chosen by agreement between the minister of justice and the president of the Supreme Court. "The mechanism for selecting judges should rest on agreement and cooperation, and not on endless rounds of capitulations by one side and vetoes by another," Herzog said.
"The fifth and last principle is the reasonableness test," he said. "The possibility of unrestricted use of the reasonability test is liable to turn into a basis for disproportionate intrusion by the judicial branch into the definitive and designated territory of the executive and legislative branches. There is room for applying the reasonability test, which in any case is limited to instances of extreme unreasonableness, while delimiting it and distinguishing between the elected echelon and the appointed echelon. Knowing the positions of the sides as I do, I am of the opinion that they are can and should create broad agreement on the reasonability test as well."
"The five principles that I have detailed are the start and not the end. The principles that put forward here are the basis of a settlement. I appeal to the representatives of the branches of government, the chairperson of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the minister of justice, and the president of the Supreme Court, please, from the depth of my heart, stop the witch-hunt! Resort to dialogue. Lower the walls. Build the bridges. It is possible and necessary to reach agreement within a short time, on the basis of these principles. The President’s Residence is completely committed to this issue and open twenty-four hours a day for dialogue that will advance any cooperative arrangement you may choose.
"I appeal to the chairperson of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and I appeal to the coalition: please, don’t raise the bill for first reading against a background of hostility, polarization, conflict, and dispute not for the sake of Heaven; and consider the principles that I have proposed here as a basis for further discussion in the committee, coalition and opposition together, before first reading.
"The greatest challenge is to preserve the people of Israel as one people. As I said, I am fully committed, and, if required, it is possible that I shall even request to appear before the committee, extraordinary and unprecedented as that is, to present the proposed principles in depth. I am ready to do everything, I repeat everything, so that we will overcome this severe dispute," Herzog concluded.
The chairpersons and CEOs of Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, Israel Discount Bank, and First International Bank of Israel issued a joint statement following the president’s speech: "We support the president’s initiative and call for the reform in the legal system to be carried out through dialogue and broad consensus that will preserve the unity of the nation and maintain a Jewish an democratic Israel and the continued prosperity of its economy."
A coalition source told "Globes" that the vote in the Knesset plenum scheduled for some items in the reform plan will not take place this week, and may be deferred further, if the opposition and the president of the Supreme Court agree to discussions on the basis of the outline presented by Herzog.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 13, 2023.
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