In the past, for the majority of his service as prime minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented himself as a bulwark against any and all changes in the Supreme Court, and vowed to nock them down, should they be presented on his watch.
On December 2, 2012, Netanyahu stated bravely that he would shelve any bill aimed at weakening the Supreme Court. “I think the independence of the court is a built-in and necessary thing,” he said. “In Israel the court was, is and will remain independent. Any attempt to bring things that would harm the independence of the court will fall. I shelved any proposal intended to damage or curtail in any way the independence of the court.”
At his Sunday morning cabinet meeting, Netanyahu referred to Saturday night’s demonstration against Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s reform of the justice system, and sang a different tune:
I would like to comment on something that is making headlines and state as follows: Several months ago, there was a huge demonstration, the mother of all demonstrations. Millions of people went into the streets to vote in the elections. One of the main topics that they voted on was reforming the judicial system.
In recent days, I have heard about an attempt to claim that the public did not know what it was voting for. Then there is a quote, one of many, from me and my colleagues during the election campaign. This is my quote: ‘We will make the necessary changes in the judicial system, prudently and responsibly. We are going to change the system, to save it and not destroy it.’
My colleagues and I, most of whom are here around this table said this countless times, and millions of citizens voted for the right wing. They knew about the intention to enact a comprehensive reform of the judicial system. What’s more, they demanded it from us. Everyone who was at our election rallies, in city centers, and neighborhoods, heard the voices rising from the crowds. Many did not vote for us who knew and agreed that it was necessary to make fundamental changes in the judicial system.
And indeed, this call has been made over the years, by a long series of government ministers from across the political spectrum, including the Justice Ministers Tommy Lapid (Yair Lapid’s father), Yaakov Neeman, Chaim Ramon, and Daniel Friedman.
Words to this effect have been uttered by both right-wing and left-wing governments, and nobody thought then that it was the ‘end of democracy.’ The truth of the matter is what we are seeking to do will restore the balance between the authorities that existed in Israel for 50 years, and which is maintained today in all western democracies.
Therefore, there needs to be a substantive, in-depth, and serious dialogue in the [Ministerial] Committee on Legislation and the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee. We cannot be swept away by inflammatory slogans about a civil war and the destruction of the state.
I must say that when we were in the opposition, we did not call for civil war and did not speak about the destruction of the state, even when the government made decisions that we vociferously opposed. I expect the leaders of the opposition to do the same.
I am convinced that following the important and in-depth dialogue in the Knesset, Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, we will complete the reform legislation in a way that will correct what is necessary, will fully protect individual rights, and restore public confidence in the judicial system, which needs this reform so much.
By the way, Justice Dorit Beinish also sounded much friendlier back in December 2012. She said that she knew that Netanyahu would not allow the court to be harmed.
“I think, I feel, that you are not always satisfied with all our rulings,” she told the PM, who was 10 years younger and did not face three criminal indictments. “But it is part of this system of mutual respect and I felt that there was this respect and support for the court,” she said.
“For this, I want to express my thanks and appreciation and I have a feeling that both on the professional and the personal level I always knew that the Prime Minister, would not abandon us, not in quotation marks. It’s important. We are strong, we are very strong, but we also need the backing of the other branches, and I felt it was there.”