Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir / TPS
Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, May 2017

by Andrew Friedman

Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein, President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, current and former government ministers and bereaved families opened the Knesset winter session on Monday with calls for bipartisanship and collaboration.

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Edelstein and Rivlin, both members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, warned against overstepping the mandate to govern, and especially against reducing the authority of the Supreme Court and the High Court of Justice.

Rivlin criticized attacks aimed at reforming the judiciary and warned that a push by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) faction to limit the court’s jurisdiction would weaken the court’s authority both de facto and in the eyes of the public.

“How exactly would a conformist, toothless Supreme Court that finds itself under threat be in the interest of the State of Israel or of Israeli democracy?” Rivlin asked.

Edelstein added a word of caution that separation of powers between three independent branches is not a “nice (thing) to have,” but rather an essential element to ensure security and freedom for all Israelis.

“Members of the Opposition, I’d ask you to think twice before running to the High Court of Justice to overturn laws passed by the government. Think about the impact that has on our democracy,” Edelstein said.

The Speaker also called on coalition members not to try to thwart democratic standards of governmental oversight, saying that any attempt to harm accepted oversight would be a “violation of our responsibility.”

The session began with a modicum of decorum and civility, but quickly descended into a shouting match between members of the parliamentary opposition and Prime Minister Netanyahu when the latter took the microphone.

Netanyahu opened his remarks with a pledge to obtain the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, as well as the return of Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, all of who are believed to still be alive and held by Hamas in Gaza. He also said that Israel is a rising power, both regionally and around the world.

“We are becoming a rising global power,” the prime minister said. “We are becoming an economic power, our military strength is unprecedented. That’s not to be taken for granted.”

Netanyahu also referred to the Egypt-Israel border fence, saying the barrier has completely eradicated illegal entry to Israel, and pledged to remove illegal immigrants from areas such as south Tel Aviv, where residents say the influx has led to a crime wave. He said, “If we look around the Western world, we see countries where immigration has caused countries to lose their national identities.

“That is happening far less here,” Netanyahu said.

Predictably, opposition members reacted harshly to the prime minster’s remarks, with MK Hilik Bar (Zionist Camp) being removed from the plenum and MKs Jamal Zahalka (Arab Joint List), Tamar Zandberg and Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and Yoel Hasson (Zionist Camp) receiving warnings from Speaker Edelstein after disrupting Netanyahu’s speech.

Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog aimed a blistering attack at Netanyahu, pinning a long list of “sins” on the prime minister for what he called a political culture in which even political allies and members of the prime minister’s party are subjected to “unprecedented attack” for expressing concerns about the ethical composition of pending legislation.

“You have torn apart the Jewish people and sown disagreement between Jews both in Israel and abroad,” Herzog said.

“You have wasted time Tweeting attacks on the chief of police, the attorney general, the state ombudsman and others … you have nurtured hatred among different parts of the nation, and turned the word ‘leftist’ to a synonym for ‘enemy.’”

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