Israeli president warns of “constitutional crisis” over Netanyahu’s judicial reforms

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during an official inauguration ceremony at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on Dec. 29, 2022. Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving Israeli leader, returned to power on Thursday as the country's prime minister at the helm of an extreme-right coalition. (JINI via Xinhua)

 Israel’s President Isaac Herzog warned on Sunday of an impending “historic constitutional crisis” in the country over a controversial plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government to overhaul the judiciary.

Herzog said in a statement that he has been mediating over the past week between the involved parties, including Netanyahu, Justice Minister Yariv Levin who drew up the plan, and President of the Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut.

“We are in the grips of a profound disagreement that is tearing our nation apart,” he noted.

Herzog, whose role is mainly ceremonial and focused on unifying the divided Israeli society, said that his efforts are focused on “averting a historic constitutional crisis and stopping the continued rift within the nation.”

At his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu dismissed the Saturday nationwide rallies, saying that in the elections held in November 2022, “millions of people vote on reforming the judicial system.”

He said the reforms will be discussed “thoroughly” in a parliamentary review committee, which also includes members from the opposition.

“We will complete the reform of legislation in a way that will fully protect individual rights and restore public confidence in the judicial system,” he added.

Last week, Levin announced a series of reforms, including giving the parliament the ability to override supreme court rulings with a simple majority. In addition, politicians will have greater influence in the appointment of supreme court judges and legal advisers to ministries.

Opponents of the plan, who rallied in Tel Aviv and other cities across Israel on Saturday night, argue that it would undermine the independence of the judiciary, harm minority rights and will make it easier for corrupted politicians to evade accountability.

On Thursday, Hayut described the plan as “an uncontrolled attack on the legal system.” In rare public remarks, she said it “intended to force a deadly blow on the independence and impartiality of the judicial system.”

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