Netanyahu Tells Herzog to See Levin About Judicial Reform Talks, Gantz Threatens General Strike

By Shmuel Smith

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset on Monday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

YERUSHALAYIM – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has referred queries about suspending the judicial overhaul in order to hold talks with opponents to Justice Minister Yariv Levin, according to media reports on Monday.

Netanyahu told his Likud faction that President Isaac Herzog approached him about his proposal for a two-week timeout on moves to advance the relevant bills, but he told him to speak to Levin.

He said that Levin is the one who “envisioned, prepared and is passing” the legislation.

The prime minister’s reticence may have something to do with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s notice to him last week that he cannot be involved in the judicial reforms because of a conflict of interests due to his ongoing corruption trial.

Herzog was not likely to get very far with Levin, however. The minister has stiffly rebuffed such overtures, telling Channel 13 news on Sunday that “the legislation won’t be frozen for even a minute.”

Shas party leader MK Rabbi Aryeh Deri seconded Levin’s refusal, saying on Monday that the call for negotiations is just a ploy to block the reforms.

“We are open to discussion,” Deri said at Shas’s Knesset faction meeting, but “you can’t use discussion to stop a process you want to stop.”

Addressing incitement against the government in recent days, Rabbi Deri said that these  “these phenomena should be uprooted.”

“Everyone who makes such a call should know he’s an outcast from society,” he added.

Religious Zionism party leader and Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich told his faction that “we are in favor of dialogue and we are in favor of examining and hearing different directions and ideas, but we will not be prepared to grant a veto right on the continuation of the legislative process.”

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz in the Knesset on Monday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gantz told reporters at the Knesset on Monday that “if the [legislative] race continues, we will also use the right to strike — and masses of citizens will bring the country to a standstill.”

Making the case that the legislative moves must be halted for negotiation to take place, Gantz said:

“There can’t be a situation in which one committee is fomenting a coup, while alongside it there is a ‘cosmetic committee’ holding idle discussions in order to silence the protests.”

This was apparently a reference to the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, chaired by Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, where hearings have begun on the proposed judicial reforms.

A committee session was temporarily disrupted on Monday when student protesters chanting “Democracy!” burst into the room.

The opposition is not united on holding talks with the government. National Unity party head Benny Gantz is strongly in favor; but Yisrael Beytenu and the Labor party have categorically rejected the idea.

“I see what Minister Levin is planning, thus there’s no point for discussion,” Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman declared on Monday.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has requested that President Herzog form an impartial panel to make recommendations. Lapid did not say where he hoped to find any impartial experts to sit on such a panel, given the deep divisions over the issue.

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