Israel opposition leaders step back from judicial reform talks

AFP , Wednesday 14 Jun 2023

Israeli opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz on Wednesday suspended their participation in talks with the government over its controversial judicial programme.

Israeli opposition
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, center, confers with colleagues during a vote on picking two lawmakers to serve on a judge selection panel, in the Knesset, Israel s parliament, Jerusalem, Wednesday, June 14, 2023. AP


The hard-right government's proposals would curtail the authority of the Supreme Court and give politicians greater powers over the selection of judges.

The divisive plan gave rise to Israel's most severe domestic crisis in years. It has sparked mass protests for 23 successive weeks, often by tens of thousands who decry the reforms as a threat to Israel's democracy.

Following the widespread anger, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had in March announced a "pause" to allow for talks on the reforms.

Lapid and Gantz announced their decision to back out of the talks at a joint press conference Wednesday, after parliament failed to elect representatives to the judicial selection committee, a body in charge of appointing judges to Israeli courts.

"There is a representative (from the opposition) in the committee to select judges, but there is no committee to select judges," opposition leader and former premier Lapid said.

"Netanyahu today prevented its establishment and put an end to pretending that he wants negotiations," he added. "The threat to democracy has not been removed."

Gantz, leader of the centre-right National Unity alliance, similarly said: "In the current situation, where there is no functioning committee as it should be, there is no point in holding negotiations".

But in a video statement Netanyahu lashed out against the two opposition members.

"Their representative was elected, and they still blew up the negotiations. So Gantz and Lapid don't want real negotiations," he said.

In its current form, the judicial selection committee includes two parliament, or Knesset, representatives among its nine members -- customarily one majority and one opposition member.

Opposition candidate Karine Elharrar, backed by Lapid and Gantz, had been voted into the committee, but the majority was unable to put forth its own candidate due to internal sparring.

As a result, a new vote must be held within 30 days.

The government, a coalition between Netanyahu's Likud party and extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies, argues the judicial changes are needed to rebalance powers between lawmakers and the judiciary.

Opponents have accused Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charge he denies, of trying to use the reforms to quash possible judgements against him, an accusation he rejected.

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