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Israeli Opposition Issues Ultimatum Over Reform Talks

As judicial reform negotiations resumed and will only continue talks if the government convenes the Judicial Selection Committee.

As judicial reform negotiations resumed on Tuesday at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, the opposition delivered an ultimatum: It will only continue talks if the government convenes the Judicial Selection Committee.

People walk past a waving Israeli flag at sunset on May 25, 2023 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Despite the recent IDF operation Shield and Arrow against Palestinian militants in Gaza, as well as the ongoing judicial reform issues with the Netanyahu government, tourism continues to grow. In January, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism announced that more than 2.67 million tourists entered the country in 2022. ALEXI ROSENFELD/JNS

Opposition party Yesh Atid has demanded that Justice Minister Yair Levin of the Likud Party convene the committee by the end of June, arguing that a backlog of judicial appointments needs to be filled.

“If the committee for selecting judges is not convened, if representatives are not appointed … we will not be there [at the talks],”  said Knesset member Meirav Cohen of Yesh Atid in an interview with Israel Radio.

According to reports, another opposition party, National Unity, initially disagreed with Yesh Atid’s position, saying it could not demand from Levin that he convene the committee as that was his prerogative. However, National Unity has since joined in Yesh Atid’s demand.

The committee’s composition has been a central issue of negotiations as it appoints Israeli judges, and whoever controls it determines the type of judges appointed.

The committee is made up of three Supreme Court justices (one must be the court president), two government ministers (of which the justice minister is one), two Knesset members and two members of the Israel Bar Association.

Of the two Knesset members appointed, one has always been from the coalition and one from the opposition. This has led to an additional rift among opposition parties as they vie to see their candidate chosen.

To calm tensions within their camp, National Unity and Yesh Atid issued a joint statement on Tuesday signaling they were acting in unison.

They included a message directed to the coalition, declaring that talks at the President’s Residence were the “only possibility for finding a common solution” and were conditional on the government continuing to freeze reform legislation in the Knesset.

Key coalition figures have urged that the government advance judicial reform if talks lead nowhere.

“Mr. Prime Minister, a post-Zionist minority is trying to impose its values ​​through the judicial system,” said Levin in a cabinet member meeting. “Change will only come from a deep and fundamental transformation, when there is someone in the chair of the Supreme Court president who truly values equality.

“We will not sit here forever. This is a government with a historic opportunity to make these changes,” Levin said, adding that if the coalition fails to act, it will find itself in a position where the left is again in power and won’t take any heed of the opinion or actions of the right.

MK Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism Party, chairman of the Knesset Constituion, Law and Justice Committee and a key figure in the coalition’s judicial reform plan, also dismissed the talks on Tuesday, calling them “meaningless.”

“They are not interesting, and I don’t waste my time on them. They’re futile,” he said, adding that if the president had wanted to reach an agreement, he had “thousands of opportunities to do so.”

Rothman said the talks should never have been started in the first place and that the legislation should never have been frozen.

Anti-judicial reform protest organizers also oppose the talks.

In a statement on Tuesday, they warned opposition leaders National Unity Chairman Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid that the negotiations at the President’s Residence only served Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interests “and will drag us on a direct path to dictatorship. They must withdraw from the talks and demand the repeal of the legislation.”

Netanyahu said on Tuesday that judicial reform “wasn’t dead, but we’re doing everything to reach a broad agreement.”

He has said previously that opposition agreement is necessary so that the reforms will be permanent and not simply reversed the next time the opposition takes power.

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate

Edited by Alberto Arellano and Joseph Hammond

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