Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Opposition leaders to sit down for talks aimed at reaching consensus on the remaining elements of the government’s planned judicial reform during a video address broadcast Monday night, just a few hours after his release from a hospital following heart surgery to implant a pacemaker.
The address followed Knesset passage of a law eliminating the “reasonableness standard” by which the nation’s Supreme Court justices were able to strike down cabinet appointments and government laws they deemed to be “unreasonable.”
Opposition co-leader MK Benny Gantz had claimed in a statement issued a half hour earlier — as have other opposition lawmakers and anarchist leaders — that the prime minister “preferred the political needs of [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir and the whims of [Justice Minister Yariv] Levin over Israel’s diplomacy, its security, over Israeli society and democracy.”
In measured tones, Netanyahu pointed out that his coalition won last November’s elections with a comfortable majority at the polls, demonstrating the strength of Israel’s democracy.
“Fulfilling the will of the voter is by no means ‘the end of democracy.’ It is the essence of democracy,” he said.
“Because of the importance of the issue, the coalition worked in every way to reach agreements with the opposition.
“We did agree to stop the legislation, we stopped it for three consecutive months,” he pointed out.
The prime minister emphasized that he believes a compromise can still be reached and offered to continue negotiations while suspending action on the remaining elements of the planned overhaul until at least November.
Netanyahu also noted that both pro and anti-government sectors agree that Israel “must remain a strong democracy that it will continue to protect individual rights for everyone, that it will not become a Halachic state (a theocracy based on Jewish law), that the Supreme Court will continue to be independent and that no party will take control of it.”
He called for an end to IDF reservists’ refusals to serve, warning that it is essential that the military remain apolitical.
“We have one country, one house, one people,” he said.
“I say to the leaders of the opposition: we can continue to argue, we can continue to fight, but we can also do something else: we can reach agreements about the future,” declared Netanyahu. “Let’s come to an agreement. This is my call to you, and I extend my hand to call for peace and mutual respect within us.”
The prime minister also had a warning for Israel’s enemies: “To our enemies, don’t be so sure about this dispute. We will stand shoulder to shoulder and fight against any threat to our nation.”
Here’s a full transcript of the prime minister’s address:
“Dear citizens of Israel,
“I would like to begin with the most moving scene that I have witnessed in the past 24 hours. Last night, masses of Israelis came to demonstrate in favor of the reform and against the reform. On one side of the escalator in the Jerusalem train station stood the supporters, and in the opposite direction the opponents. These ascended and these descended. Everyone held flags, everyone shouted slogans, everyone was there from their heart.
Then, despite the differences of opinion, when they were near each other, someone extended a hand to his fellow. First one, and then another and then another. They shook hands – not as enemies, not as people who hate each other, but as brothers. This is the people of Israel. This is our spirit. This is what we must aspire to always, and especially at this time.
Today, we carried out a necessary democratic step, one designed to restore a measure of balance between the authorities, what we had here for 50 years. We passed the amendment to the reasonableness standard so that the elected government will be able to lead policy according to the will of the majority of the citizens of the state.
In no way is carrying out the will of the voter ‘the end of democracy.’ It is the essence of democracy. Due to the importance of the issue, the coalition worked throughout to reach consensus with the opposition. This was not a given.
In previous cases of sharp public disagreement, the governments did not extend a hand to opponents of their policies: Not for the first Oslo Accords, not for the later Oslo Accords, not to the expulsion from Gush Katif and not the agreements that transferred areas of the state and gas fields to Lebanon, in effect to Hezbollah.
But we acted differently. Here, we agreed to halt the legislation; we stopped it for three continuous months. We agreed to significant changes to the original policy.
I say with regret: None of our compromise proposals were accepted, not one. Even in the plenum today, as the voting was underway, until the last moment, we tried to reach agreement but the other side consistently refused. I remind you that until recently, senior opposition figures supported changing the reasonableness standard. Others even agreed to cancel it altogether.
But even if there was no agreement on the measured amendment that was submitted, in no way did this justify disrupting the lives of – and causing suffering to – millions of citizens who were unable to get to work, the hospital or the airport due to blocked highways, delayed ambulances, fires, and blocking Ben-Gurion International Airport.
And despite everything my friends, we continued to strive for dialogue and to reach agreement. We are not giving up on the chance of reaching broad agreement – and I tell you that it is possible.
Already in the coming days, the coalition will turn to the opposition in order to advance a dialogue between us. We are prepared to discuss everything, immediately, and do so in the round of talks during the Knesset recess and reach a comprehensive agreement on everything and we will add more time should it be needed, until the end of November. That is more than enough time to reach agreement on everything.
We have consensus. We all agree that Israel needs to remain a strong democracy, that it will continue to safeguard individual rights for all, that it will not become a state governed by Jewish religious law, that the court will continue to be independent and that no side will control it.
I would like to reiterate that: No side must be allowed to control the court. This will not happen on our watch.
Citizens of Israel,
We all need to agree on something else: The IDF must remain outside any political controversy. We all know that the IDF relies on dedicated reservists who love this country. Calls for refusal to serve harm the security of every citizen of the state. No government can capitulate to refusal diktat and we will not give in to such diktat.
I call on you – brother and sister reservists, leave IDF duty out of the political debate.
We have one state, one home, one people. On the eve of the
Ninth of Av (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tisha-bav-101/), let us safeguard them together.
I say to the leaders of the opposition: It is possible to continue to debate and argue but it is also possible to do something else: It is possible to reach consensus regarding what comes next.
Let us reach agreement. This is my call to you, and I extend my hand and call for peace and mutual respect between us.
A last word to our enemies: I know that you do not know what democracy is. Do not misunderstand this debate we are having. As always, we will stand shoulder to shoulder and together repel any threat to our dear country.”