Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin said that indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caused the public to understand the need for judicial reform.
“Three indictments of this type really contributed to a very broad public understanding that there are failures in the system that need to be corrected, but it has nothing to do with them,” he said in a Knesset session on Monday.
Levin said he has been pushing this issue for around 14 years. At the time, he claims, journalists approached him saying his ideas for reform were “unheard of here.”
“I fought for this path that I believe in for a long time, and it took a long time to convince others,” he added.
This is the first time Levin has publicly connected his sweeping proposed judicial reforms with Netanyahu’s trial.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid noted that the Likud party has always opposed his reform, saying it will make Israel undemocratic.
"Now they stand behind you because it benefits them," he wrote on Twitter. "The result will be the destruction of the legal world; indictments and convictions will be canceled. A criminal will not be a criminal, a law will not be a law. And the State of Israel will cease to be a democratic state."
Critics of Levin’s proposed reforms have argued that Netanyahu – and several of his coalition members – stand to benefit from the judicial overhaul. The prime minister, on trial for fraud, breach of trust and bribery, denies wrongdoing.
While many Israelis on both sides of the aisle agree that reform is needed, critics say that Levin’s plan will weaken the Supreme Court and destroy any semblance of checks and balances in the government.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett this week voiced opposition to the plan for the first time, calling it “dangerous” and saying it will “harm the foundations of the State of Israel.” Bennett has long favored reform but, he said, “you don’t fix a historical distortion with another distortion.”
On the other hand, newly-appointed Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan, who favors the legislation, said she plans to take action to counter “the panic created by deliberate deception on the part of the media and the left-wing parties.”
“I intend to make the details of the reform available to the public,” Atbaryan wrote on Twitter. “Soon Israel will become more democratic and the public will be able to receive more organized and factual information.”
Despite Levin’s claims, a survey published this week by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) claims that support for reform is tepid.
“The data … is clear: There is no majority for initiatives that seek to weaken the Supreme Court and diminish the judiciary,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of IDI.
A protest against the plan drew between 80,000 to 100,000 Israelis to Tel Aviv on Saturday to express their opposition.
Netanyahu dismissed the massive protest saying that “millions of citizens voted for the right-wing” in the November election.
“We cannot be swept away by inflammatory slogans about civil war and the destruction of the state. I must say that when we were in the opposition, we did not call for civil war and did not speak about the destruction of the state, even when the government made decisions that we vociferously opposed. I expect the leaders of the opposition to do the same,” he said.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS