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Knesset passes first reading of controversial judicial bills, Netanyahu celebrates 'a great day'

Tensions continue both inside and outside of the Knesset with protests on the street and harsh social media comments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and coalition members celebrate after a vote on the government's judicial overhaul plans in the Knesset assembly hall in Jerusalem, Feb. 21, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israeli Knesset on Tuesday passed the first of three readings of the government’s first two controversial judicial bills that have divided the Israeli public for the past two months.

The bill passed with 63 votes in favor and 46 against. Proponents of the judicial overhaul claim it will strengthen Israeli democracy by reducing the power of unelected judges. By contrast, opponents of the bill argue that it will undermine Israeli democracy by weakening an independent judiciary.

Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets on Monday to protest the government’s judicial reform plans.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the results of the vote, calling it “a great day.”

Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who has led the effort to implement the judicial overhaul, welcomed favorable vote as “bringing back democracy” by diversifying the representation of Israel’s judiciary.

Knesset Member Simcha Rothman, head of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and a key proponent of the judicial overhaul, accused Israel’s High Court of undermining Israeli democracy by interfering disproportionately in the country’s legislative work.

“The High Court of Justice damaged the status of the judicial system, and this is what is at the heart of the amendments that are being voted on today,” said Rothman. “The High Court damaged the process of judicial appointments and intervened in legislative processes.”

“The High Court critically damaged the three branches [of government], and thus harmed you, the sovereign. This is what we are coming to fix today,” he added.

Not surprisingly, the opposition were displeased by the outcome of the vote.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid condemned the Netanyahu government for passing a bill that he believes will undermine Israel’s economy, democracy and security.

“Coalition members — history will judge you for tonight. For the damage to democracy, for the damage to the economy, for the damage to security, for you tearing apart the nation of Israel and that you just don’t care,” Lapid warned.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli blasted the government and urged the opposition to decline any dialogue with Netanyahu’s coalition.

“The conduct of the coalition proves without a doubt that they have no desire for dialogue. I, again, call on Lapid and [Benny] Gantz to inform the president that despite good intentions, we will not hold any talks with this predatory group,” Michaeli stated.

Michaeli claimed the Netanyahu government seeks to undermine Israeli democracy while pretending to be interested in a dialogue.

“Their stated goal is to trample democracy, while they set traps and snares for us in the form of ‘dialogue.' The time has come to stop falling into their traps and join the determined struggle of hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who are taking to the streets week after week to stop the coup with their bodies. It’s the only way to win,” she said.

Knesset Member Ram Ben-Barak, a member of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, was condemned for his inflammatory statement yesterday when compared the Netanyahu government with Nazi Germany of the 1930s.

“The Nazi party also started out as a democracy and ended up as a dictatorship,” said Ben-Barak.

Netanyahu blasted Ben-Barak and the opposition’s conduct in a tweet.

“The opposition has gone off its rocker. Ram Ben-Barak disgracefully and scandalously compares the Israeli government to Nazis. Protest leaders tried to jail coalition members in their homes. Opposition members disgraced the Israeli flag in the Knesset plenum. The opposition has gone off its rocker – and we continue!” vowed Netanyahu.

However, Ben-Barak doubled down on his Nazi comparison statement by warning that Israel could potentially move in the direction of a dictatorship.

“Netanyahu, Ben Gvir and all other sycophants who are riding the wave – look at Wikipedia and see how the Nazi party rose to power supposedly democratically and immediately became a dictatorship. The processes that you are initiating will lead us to a dictatorship as happened in Poland, Turkey and Hungary – we are next,” tweeted Ben-Barak.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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