While the prime minister is the lead politician who presides over the government, Israelis look to their president to bring balance to a divided political scene and calm to a tumultuous nation.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog is being called upon now to fill that role.
The plan for sweeping judicial overhaul being forwarded by the new government has driven a wedge into Israeli society, dividing the nation in half.
Proponents argue that Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s legislation will break up an activist court and remove the liberal elite stranglehold on the justice system. Opponents say it will destroy checks and balances between the government and the court and concentrate power in the hands of the ruling coalition, thus ending democracy.
“We are in the midst of a deep conflict that is tearing the people apart,” Herzog noted last week while addressing the issue. “This conflict worries me and it worries a big part of people in Israel and the diaspora.”
The proposed reforms have sparked some of the nation’s largest ever protests and the rhetoric between the two sides has become vitriolic.
Even opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Herzog to step in and spearhead efforts to find a “balanced” judicial reform. At his party meeting on Monday, Lapid said he asked Herzog to “form a presidential committee to offer a balanced and reasonable recommendation to improve the judicial system and find the proper balance between the legislative and judicial branches.”
“I hope and believe the committee will be formed and will prevent the destruction of our democracy and the terrible division among the people of Israel,” Lapid said.
Herzog’s office confirmed that he has been asked to intervene.
“The president continues his ceaseless efforts with all relevant actors in a bid to create a wide-ranging respectful dialogue in the hope of reaching a broad understanding,” he said.
Today, Herzog said the President’s Residence – which is “the only place that holds the trust of all parties in Israeli society” – will host discussions on these divisive issues.
“We are not even able to argue,” Herzog said. “Israel must near its 80th anniversary more united and less polarized and face our controversies without fear. We must know how to settle our differences.”
“It is our clear responsibility to listen and just as importantly, make our voices heard and aim for broad agreements and not forced submission,” he added.
The president's new initiative for dialogue coincides with a Channel 12 news report that Levin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are unmoved by some 110,000 protestors who oppose judicial system reform.
Herzog, whose seven-year term will conclude when Israel reaches its 80th birthday, has apparently already held discreet discussions with different political leaders in order to encourage discussion and calm.
Herzog has been criticized for not taking action sooner to calm the public.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS