Netanyahu says he wants to hear “counter-offers” on proposed judicial reform

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he was ready to “hear opposing proposals” to his controversial plan to radically overhaul Israel’s independent judiciary, while defending a proposed legal shake-up to counter what he called “extreme judicial activity’.

The prime minister said Israel needs “a strong independent judiciary, but an independent judiciary does not mean an unbridled judiciary” in a wide range an interview with CNN aired Tuesday for more than an hour. The interview also covered Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Israel’s efforts to thwart them, the new governing coalition with far-right ministers, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and prospects for peace, Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine and the recent violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

A democracy needs “a balance between three branches of government; in Israel, that balance is broken,” Netanyahu said, again insisting that the proposed changes would “make Israeli democracy stronger.”

Netanyahu’s coalition proposals, as presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, would severely limit the Supreme Court’s capacity to overturn laws and government decisions, with a “nullification clause” allowing the Knesset to review overturned laws with a simple majority of 61; to give the government full control over the selection of judges; prevented the court from using a “reasonableness” test to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, rather than receiving advice from advisers working under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice.

The proposals have been heavily criticized in Israel, with leading financial and legal experts warning that the judicial reform would harm democracy and the economy. Mass protests erupted and public petitions were drafted by various officials, professionals, prominent economists, businessmen, academics, Israel’s vaunted tech sector and others.

In his interview, Netanyahu argued that Levin’s proposals have existing “safety” provisions, but critics “don’t want to hear” about them. Some of the critics’ concerns are “dictated by a lack of understanding, a lack of information,” but some criticisms are simply “slogans … frankly by political opponents who lost the election,” he said.

The prime minister pointed to other parliamentary democracies such as Canada and New Zealand, where he said the courts lacked the “ability” to overturn laws passed by parliament.

Netanyahu has denied that the proposed judicial shake-up was prompted by a desire to defuse the judiciary to save himself from jail time, potentially, amid ongoing corruption trials that he says are “unraveling”.

The prime minister is on trial in three corruption cases, facing charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing and said the charges were framed in an attempted political coup led by the police, the prosecutor’s office, the media and left-wing rivals.

File: Future Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his case at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 31, 2022. (Yonathan Sindel/Flash90)

“None of the reforms we’re talking about…has anything to do with my trial,” Netanyahu told CNN, arguing that the ongoing trial was not an issue in November’s election, which gave his far-right religious bloc 64 seats in The Knesset of Israel.

The prime minister said he “respectfully” disagreed with critics of the plans such as Alan Dershowitz, who earlier this month said an overhaul would make defending Israel on the global stage more difficult, and argued that radical, sweeping changes would bring Israel “in line with most democracies around the world.”

“Right now, Israel is in a state of emergency, Israel has the most extreme judicial activism that’s gone off the rails, and we’re trying to get it back to where almost all democracies are, both in terms of selecting judges and the balance between the different branches of government,” Netanyahu said.

“Fixing or restoring Israeli democracy will make democracy stronger, [the] the judiciary will remain independent, the rule of law will remain independent. The property rights I hold sacred [the] independent performance of contracts, that is [all] I’ll be there, he continued.

Addressing his coalition – the most far-right and religious in Israel’s history – Netanyahu said ironically that Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionist Party and National Security Ministry Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit “have more seats than the previous minister -chairman,” in reference to former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whose now-defunct New Right alliance won just seven seats in the 2021 election and went on to form a short-lived but broad coalition with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, the Arab Raham party and others .

Netanyahu says he wants to hear “counter-offers” on proposed judicial reform

LR: MPs Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich at a rally of their Religious Zionism party in the southern city of Sderot on October 26, 2022. (Gil Cohen-Magen / AFP)

Echoing previous remarks about his new far-right ministers, Netanyahu said: “they joined me, I didn’t join them and I lead the politics and I think my record both in terms of peace, in terms of democracy, in terms of the economy , in terms of everything else, they have been very, very successful, and the Israelis think it has been successful; that’s why they voted for me again and again.”

“I control the government and I am responsible for its policies, and the policies are reasonable and responsible and continue to be so,” Netanyahu said.

Objectives for the sixth term

The prime minister, who began his sixth term in office at the end of December, said he had “three primary goals” for his tenure: “One is to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions; the second is to dramatically expand peace to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, leading to an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the third is to further boost Israel’s incredible economy.

Netanyahu once again vowed to do everything “in my power as Prime Minister of Israel to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear arsenal that is expressly aimed at our destruction.”

“And they also say not only death to Israel, but death to America,” he added.

Asked if Israel was behind a drone attack on a defense facility in the Iranian city of Isfahan over the weekend Netanyahu said he “never talks about specific operations” with some exceptions such as Action in 2018 against Iran’s secret nuclear archive.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves after giving a speech about files obtained by Israel that he says prove Iran lied about its nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez )

“Every time there is an explosion in the Middle East, Israel is blamed or given responsibility… Sometimes we are [behind strikes]sometimes we are not, but I will say that there is a primary mission,” to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“The only way you can stop a rogue state from acquiring nuclear weapons is a combination of crippling economic sanctions” and “the most important thing is a credible military threat,” he continued. “And if that deterrence fails, you have no choice but to take action,” he warned.

Israel and the United States, Netanyahu said, were moving “closer” on the Iran issue, some eight years after the two sides were at odds over the US-brokered 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear progress in exchange for sanctions relief. Netanyahu famously clashed with then-President Barack Obama and his administration over this very issue and strongly voiced his opposition to the nuclear deal, which US President Joe Biden tried to rejoin after his predecessor Donald Trump pulled the U.S. from the deal in 2018

“The world is getting closer to understanding what this Iran is: barbarism against their own people, the fact that they are delivering drones that are killing innocent people in the heart of Europe, in Ukraine,” he said in reference to providing Tehran locally – did suicide drones to Russia for use by the Kremlin in its nearly year-long invasion of Ukraine.

“People understand, recognize how dangerous this nuclear weapons regime would be, and I think there are two aspects to preventing that outcome; one is recognition and the other is action.”

On Ukraine, Netanyahu said he was “looking into” providing the country with “other types of aid” besides humanitarian aid, amid concerns about “difficult relations” with Russia and Israel’s “freedom of action” along its border with Syria to ” keep Iran under control.”

File: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (MAKSIM SHEMETOV/POOL/AFP)

So far, Israel has refused to provide military aid to Kyiv out of apparent concern about Russia’s reaction. One of the main reasons for Israel’s hesitation appears to be its strategic need to maintain freedom of operations in Syria, where Russian forces largely control the airspace.

“Just kilometers from here, on our northern border in Syria, Israeli planes and Russian planes are flying almost a distance apart,” he said, adding that Israel has no desire to enter into a Russian-Israeli military confrontation.

“Iran is trying to establish itself in Syria right next to our northern border, as they did in Lebanon with Hezbollah. For the past 7-8 years, I have adopted a policy of military strikes against Iran’s military facilities. They wanted to build an army of 100,000 Shia militias here, commanded by Iranian generals, and we systematically humiliated them,” he explained.

“Israel should have freedom of action in the air… I was very open with him [Russian President Vladimir] Putin for that. We can clash or we can make sure we coordinate in such a way that our air forces don’t clash. he continued.

At the same time, Netanyahu said that Israel is “acting in ways that I will not list here against Iran’s weapons production that is being used against Ukraine.”

Not only is Israel trying to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, but “it is also taking action against certain weapons developments that Iran has and Iran invariably exports.”

“Realistically, Israel, by confronting Iran, is also confronting Russia’s main partner” in the war against Ukraine, he said.

some reports said the alleged Israeli strike targeted Iran’s suicide drone program.

Asked if he would consider mediating between Ukraine and Russia given Israel’s ties to both countries, the prime minister said he had been asked before and would “do it now if asked by both sides and frankly if asked by the United States.” “

“The peace of the world is at stake because I think the peace of the world is at stake with Iran getting nuclear weapons, it will destabilize the whole world,” he said.

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