Israel’s President proposes judicial compromise to avoid ‘chasm’

The Israeli President has warned that the bitter struggle over the country’s judiciary has brought Israel to the brink of “the precipice” as he presented a series of compromise proposals that were quickly rejected by the government.

In a blatant prime-time speech on Wednesday, Isaac Herzog said that as disagreements deepened over a controversial judicial overhaul pushed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line new government, he heard “people on all sides for whom . . . the thought of blood on the streets is no longer shocking.”

“Anyone who thinks that a real civil war with human lives is a limit that we could never reach has no idea what they are talking about,” Herzog said.

“Right now, in the 75th year of the independence of the State of Israel, the abyss is within reach.”

Opposition politicians welcomed Herzog’s initiative. But in brief remarks before boarding a plane for an official visit to Germany on Wednesday night, Netanyahu dismissed the president’s blueprint.

“The things that the President is proposing have not been agreed by the coalition and key elements of the proposal he is proposing only perpetuate the existing situation,” Netanyahu said. “That’s the sad truth.”

Israel has been in political turmoil since January, when Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing, ultra-religious and ultra-nationalist groups launched a spate of legislation to limit the powers of the judiciary.

The government argues that its amendments, which would give it control over judge appointments and severely limit the Supreme Court’s powers to overturn laws, are necessary to rein in an overly activist judiciary.

But critics see the government changes as a fundamental threat to Israel’s checks and balances, which will give the government unfettered powers, undermine protections for minorities and hurt the economy.

In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the plans, while reservists from across the military, including members of elite cyber, military intelligence and air force units, have threatened to stop training if they become law.

In an effort to break the impasse, Herzog, whose powers are largely ceremonial in nature, laid out what he described as “the basis for a thorough, fair and correct discussion” between government and opposition politicians.

Unlike the government’s proposed legislation, Herzog’s proposal would ensure that the appointment of judges requires a broad consensus from a body where neither the government nor the judges have a majority.

His plan also gives the Supreme Court more leeway to block laws. While it would not be able to strike down Israel’s quasi-constitutional laws, it could still block ordinary legislation. Unlike the government’s proposals, Parliament would not be able to overrule such decisions.

Passing basic laws would become more difficult, requiring a supermajority of at least 70 seats in the 120-seat Knesset to become law, rather than a simple majority.

Yair Lapid, leader of the main opposition party Yesh Atid, said the president’s framework should be approached “with respect for his position” and slammed the coalition for rejecting it. Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party said it accepted the proposals “as a basis for legislation.” Israel’s President proposes judicial compromise to avoid ‘chasm’

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