Updated Mar 15, 2023 - World

Bibi rejects judicial compromise proposal as Herzog warns Israel on brink of civil war

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected Isaac Herzog's proposal for compromise on constitutional and judicial reforms that the Israeli president had hoped would replace the government's controversial judicial overhaul plan.

Why it matters: The governing coalition plans to bring the first part of its judicial overhaul plan to a final vote in the Knesset next week, despite months of mass protests that have rocked the country, including the Israeli military, against the legislation.

Driving the news: Herzog's proposal appeared to seek to appeal to the ruling coalition by including reforms that would have limited the ability of the Supreme Court to strike down certain laws.

  • The proposal also would have limited the court's ability to cancel administrative decisions by the government on the basis of "unreasonability," including the appointment of ministers and policy decisions.
  • Herzog’s proposal would have changed the balance of power on the committee that appoints judges and cancel the veto power the judges on the committee have over the appointments. But appearing to appeal to critics of the government's plan, Herzog's proposal didn't give the coalition an automatic majority on the committee.
  • It also didn't include an override clause that enables the Knesset to cancel Supreme Court rulings. The override clause is one of the main tenants of the government's current overhaul plan.
  • Herzog’s compromise plan also proposed drafting a bill of rights for the first time since Israel was founded, which would have included passing a basic law to protect minority rights, not allow discrimination, and establish the principle of equality, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Behind the scenes: Herzog’s plan was a result of consultations he conducted in recent weeks with experts, think tanks and liberal and conservative politicans, his aides said.

  • According to press reports, Netanyahu was briefed about the proposal earlier on Wednesday and wanted to accept it, but backed off after Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is leading the judicial overhaul, threatened to resign. Levin hasn't denied the reports.

What they're saying: "Many parts of his proposal only perpetuate the current status and do not restore the balance between the different branches of power. This is the sad truth," Netanyahu said.

  • In a speech earlier Wednesday, Herzog warned that the current debate in the country contains dangerous rhetoric and hatred from all sides that he never thought he would hear even in his worst nightmares.
  • “Whoever thinks a real civil war that will cost human lives is something we will not reach does not know what he is talking about. Now when we are reaching Israel’s 75th anniversary the country is on the brink of the abyss. A civil war is a red line and I will not let that happen," Herzog said.

State of play: Opposition leader Yair Lapid welcomed Herzog's proposal. Former Defense Minister Benny Gantz said his Blue and White party fully endorses the proposal.

  • But several ministers and members of Knesset from Netanyahu's Likud party attacked Herzog and said his proposal should be rejected.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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