Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation Thursday night following a day in which protesters — anarchists among them — disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis in their zeal to oppose the government’s planned judicial reforms.
Speaking from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu declared that the “opponents of the judicial reforms are not traitors, and its supporters are not fascists.”
However: “In order to prevent a rift in our nation, each side must take seriously the claims and concerns of the other,” Netanyahu said.
“Supporters of the reform are outraged that the balance between the authorities in Israel has been violated in the last decades. Without authority, the court intervened in many areas that it was not supposed to discuss at all,” he explained.
“I believe that it is possible to pass a reform that will provide a response to both sides, that will leave the proper balance between the authorities, and on the other hand preserve the individual rights of the citizens of the country.
“We did not come to trample, we came to balance and correct,” Netanyahu said.
“We are determined to correct [the system] and responsibly promote the reform that will restore the balance between the branches of government,” he said. “The best way is through litigation and obtaining as broad a consensus as possible.”
Nevertheless, he said, in order to reach a consensus, both sides must engage. Up to this point, he noted, the opposition has chosen not to have any input. The legislation will be passed regardless, he warned.
Referring to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s “absurd” order barring him from speaking out about the reforms or having any involvement, Netanyahu added, “The buck stops here. I am getting involved, regardless of personal cost. Enough is enough,” he promised, after Thursday’s passage of a law that provides relative protection against the Attorney General declaring him incapacitated, effectively barring him from further involvement.
“I will do everything I can to resolve this issue,” he said, but noted there will be no delay in the vote on reform for selection of judges. The opposition still has a few days to discuss and provide input, he noted. Moreover, the Knesset will continue its overhaul of the judicial system in the next session — and the opposition can participate in that as well, he said.
“I believe we can bring together a reform that will restore the balance to the system,” he said. “We will legislate protection of the individual in the law we will pass.” The Knesset will not pass an override bill that will allow lawmakers to do whatever they want without restriction,” he specified. “I will make sure of that.”
Netanyahu also noted that he had met with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other ministers prior to taking the podium, and that Gallant had expressed his concerns about the national security situation that has been affected by the endless planned disruptions to Israeli life.
“Defense Minister Yoav Galant met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this evening and presented him with the impact of the legislative processes on the IDF and the defense establishment,” Gallant’s office said in a statement following their meeting.
“At the prime minister’s request and in light of his planned statement this evening, the minister of defense is delaying his statement at this stage,” the statement added, referring to Gallant’s plan to address the nation himself earlier in the evening.
“I am taking everything into consideration,” Netanyahu said. “But I have to say, again: there is no place for refraining from engagement, from ghosting talks over this issue. Ghosting endangers our national security, and the personal safety of every Israeli. There is no justification for it.
“Friends, I will do everything — everything — to calm the situation … because we are all brothers, and God willing, together we will do it, and together we will succeed.”
Full Official Statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this evening (Thursday, 23 March 2023), at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, made the following remarks:
“Citizens of Israel,
Several months ago, as soon as the results of the elections became known, I said: I intend to be the Prime Minister of all citizens of Israel. I meant it then and I also mean it today.
We have one country and we must do everything to defend it from external threats, and from irreparable internal rifts. We cannot allow any disagreement, as sharp as it may be, to endanger our common future. Not only must we reject violence and hooliganism, we must also reject and condemn incitement and provocation.
Opponents of the reform are not traitors; supporters of the reform are not fascists. The overwhelming majority of the citizens of Israel, from across the political spectrum, love our country and want to maintain our democracy.
But since there are those who have arrogated democracy to themselves, this evening I would like to say a few words about democracy. True, we have differences of opinion. Supporters of the reform think there is no true democracy here and what endangers democracy is an all-powerful Supreme Court that delves into everything and, in effect, runs the country. On the other hand, opponents of the reform think that what endangers democracy is the Knesset and the Government acting without brakes or restraints, which will infringe on individual rights.
A proper democratic regime must deal with both of these issues. It must ensure majority rule and it must also safeguard individual rights. In order to ensure this, and in order to prevent a rift in the nation, the judicial reform for democracy must meet both of these basic needs. In order to prevent a rift in the nation, each side must take seriously the claims and concerns of the other side – and I would like to do that now.
Supporters of the reform are indignant that the balance between the authorities in Israel has been violated over the past decades. The court has unjustifiably interfered in security considerations in the war on terrorism. Time and again it has imposed difficulties on government policy.
For example, it prevented removing illegal migrants from Israel and you know what this has done to the residents of south Tel Aviv and other parts of the country. It interfered in the gas outline and for years delayed the extraction of gas from the sea, at an economic cost of tens of billions of shekels, which affected every citizen of Israel. Without authority, the court invalidated laws, prevented appointments and interfered in many areas that it need not have discussed at all.
There is another claim, perhaps the most painful. Many among the people have complained that the Supreme Court carries on like a closed club regarding the appointment of judges, on the ‘a friend brings a friend’ system. Under the current system, judges have a veto on the appointment of judges and, in effect, they appoint themselves, which does not occur in any other democracy in the world.
More than a few people, who do not define themselves as supporters of the reform, actually agree that various changes must be made, including on this matter, to enact a substantive reform of the judicial system. But among them there are also those who are concerned that the proposed democratic reform will go too far, and that it will enable the government and the Knesset to take control of the court, to override every ruling, to legislate any law. They are concerned about a state run according to Jewish religious law, about an illiberal state, about legislation against the LGBTQ sector, the secular, women and minorities.
Then, in light of these concerns, I say this evening: I believe that it is possible to enact a reform that will answer both sides, a reform that will restore the proper balance between the authorities and, on the other hand, safeguard, and I say beyond that, not just safeguard but ensure the individual rights of every citizen in the country.
We have not come to run over and to trample. We have come to balance and correct. Therefore, we are determined to correct and responsibly advance the democratic reform that will restore the proper balance between the authorities. I remind you that so far we have discussed only one subject out of many that we have not yet discussed.
The best way to achieve the balanced reform, and prevent a rift in the nation, is by dialogue and achieving agreement that is as broad as possible.
Unfortunately, as of now the representatives of the opposition have refused to enter into this discussion. Almost three months have been wasted over this refusal. I hope that this will change in the coming days. I am working to find a solution. I am attentive to the concerns of the other side. Look, we have already made changes in the law regarding the judicial selection committee, in order to meet the concerns of the other side.
The law that will be submitted for Knesset approval next week is a law that does not take control of the court but balances and diversifies it. It opens the gates of the Supreme Court to outlooks, publics and sectors that until today have been excluded from it for decades.
We do not want a controlled court. We want a balanced court. A balanced court will be a court of the people and such a court will win the people’s confidence. This is not the end of democracy but the strengthening of democracy.
In all democracies, including in the US, it is the representatives of the people who select judges. There are hardly any exceptions to this, very few. Then the US is not a democracy? New Zealand is not a democracy? Canada is not a democracy? The noted jurist, Professor Alan Dershowitz from Harvard University, who actually opposes parts of the reform, said that if the reform would pass in its current format, before ‘the softening’, then Israel would not be a dictatorship, it would be like New Zealand, Canada and to a considerable degree, the US as well. This is not the end of democracy but the strengthening of democracy.
Now, I would like to answer a main concern that has been raised by the other side. I know that there is concern over a sweeping and unrestricted override clause that would lead to a small Knesset majority being able to invalidate any court decision. I want to tell you clearly – this will not happen.
On the contrary, we intend, and I intend, to anchor in law individual rights. We will ensure the basic rights of every Israeli citizen – Jews and non-Jews, secular and religious, women, the LGBTQ sector, everyone – without exception. All legislation will be bound by these principles. I am not saying this in the abstract; we intend to submit explicit legislation on this issue. I will personally see to it.
Unfortunately, until today, my hands have been tied. We reached the absurdity that if I had entered this event, as my position requires, they threatened to compel me to take a leave of absence, which would nullify the results of the election and the will of millions of citizens. This is an absurdity that cannot be in a proper democracy.
Therefore, this evening, I announce to you, my friends, citizens of Israel, no more. I am entering the arena. I am laying aside any other consideration, for our people, and for our country, I will do everything in my power to find a solution.
This evening, I met with several ministers, including the Defense Minister. I heard his concerns about the implications of the situation on our national security. I am taking everything into account. At the same time, I must also repeat that there is no place for refusal to serve. Refusal to serve endangers our national security and the personal security of every one of us; there is also no justification for refusing to serve.
I tell you, my friends, I will do everything, everything, to calm the situation and end the rift in the nation, because we are brothers.
With G-d’s help, together we will do it and together we will succeed.”