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Netanyahu dismisses mass protests, says millions of right-wing voters 'demanded' judicial reform

In his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu addressed growing tensions among the Israeli public

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly Cabinet meeting, Jan. 15, 2023 (Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday addressed growing tensions among the Israeli public centered around his government’s recently announced judicial system reforms.

Opponents to the judicial reform plan have organized protests during the last week, culminating in a mass demonstration on Saturday night, when over 80,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to rally against the reforms which they argued will destroy the very nature of Israel’s democracy. Protestors specifically spoke out against the reforms to establish a mechanism to grant power to the Israeli Knesset to overturn High Court rulings. They also voiced concerns that the reforms will give the government complete power to appoint High Court judges and severely limit the High Court from being able to veto legislation.

In Netanyahu’s response to the recent protests, he reminded his Cabinet that “millions of people went into the streets” several months ago to participate in demonstrations ahead of the November elections.

“One of the main topics that they voted on was reforming the judicial system,” the prime minister said. “In recent days, I have heard about an attempt to claim that the public did not know what it was voting for."

Netanyahu went on to prove his point by providing a statement from his recent election campaign, when he quoted: “'We will make the necessary changes in the judicial system, prudently and responsibly. We are going to change the system, to save it and not destroy it.'”

He affirmed that with his statement, “millions of citizens voted for the right-wing” in the November election. “They knew about the intention to enact a comprehensive reform of the judicial system. What's more, they demanded it from us. Everyone who was at our election rallies, in city centers and in neighborhoods, heard the voices rising from the crowds. There are also many who did not vote for us who knew and agreed that it was necessary to make fundamental changes in the judicial system.”

Netanyahu reassured that the new reforms are not meant to destroy democracy but “will restore the balance between the authorities that existed in Israel for 50 years, and which is maintained today in all western democracies.”

To further address the controversy of the judicial reform plan, Netanyahu called for a substantive and in-depth dialogue in the Knesset, Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in order to “complete the reform legislation in a way that will correct what is necessary, will fully protect individual rights and restore public confidence in the judicial system.”

Netanyahu also responded to the protests, calling on Knesset members in the opposition to tone down the incendiary rhetoric about the destruction of Israel and the calls for civil war.

“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.”

During the protests on Saturday, a legal representative from the Movement for Quality Government called on Israeli President Isaac Herzog to declare Netanyahu unfit to serve as prime minister. Other crowd members could be heard chanting: "Bibi go home", "Disgrace" and "Democracy." 

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

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