Netanyahu vows to advance judicial reforms: ‘We won’t let them win’

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Netanyahu vows to advance judicial reforms: ‘We won’t let them win’

Prime minister also said he would 'fix' the High Court's dismissal of Shas Party leader Dery as minister and bring him back to the cabinet 'where he belongs'

JERUSALEM, Dec. 29, 2022 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd L, Rear) is seen during an official inauguration ceremony at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on Dec. 29, 2022. (JINI via Xinhua)
JERUSALEM, Dec. 29, 2022 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd L, Rear) is seen during an official inauguration ceremony at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on Dec. 29, 2022. (JINI via Xinhua)

Prime Minister Netanyahu promised that the weekly mass demonstrations against his government’s judicial reforms wouldn’t deter him, calling the overwhelming criticism from all sectors of Israeli society “a flood of false propaganda.”

In addition to the weekly mass demonstrations, which saw over 130,000 people take to the streets across Israel on Saturday, hundreds of high-tech workers held a strike on Tuesday, warning that the government’s plan to weaken the High Court of Justice will harm the economy.

“We won’t let them win. We haven’t come to end democracy. We’ve come to save democracy. What is democracy? Rule of the majority and respect for individual rights,” Netanyahu said at a press conference on Monday.

The High Court President, the attorney general, Israel’s Bar Association, former Bank of Israel governors, as well as former justice, defence and prime ministers have railed against the judicial reforms, calling it an attack on democracy that will remove the checks and balances.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition and its proposed judicial reforms to reduce powers of the Supreme Court, in Tel Aviv, Israel January 21, 2023. REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg

Kan public broadcaster and Channel 12 news reported that the current Bank of Israel Governor, Amir Yaron, echoed the warning to Netanyahu in a recent meeting. Yaron reportedly relayed messages from credit rating firms he had spoken to at World Economic Forum in Davos.

Netanyahu has previously been a staunch supporter of protecting the powers and independence of the High Court of Justice, boasting in an interview in 2012 that he had prevented several attempts by right-wing lawmakers to weaken it.

Critics argue that his change of mind stems from his corruption trial, fearing that the judicial reforms are just the first phase in a longer scheme that will ultimately end with passing a law that will prevent a sitting prime minister from being indicted.

Return of Arieh Dery 

The battle between the government and the High Court took another turn this week after Netanyahu promised to “fix” the court’s ruling that said Shas party leader Arieh Dery was unfit to be minister.

The court ruled 10-1 last week that Dery’s minister posting was “unreasonable in the extreme” due to his criminal past as well as his promise in a plea deal last year not to return to public life.

“Harm has been done to the principle of the will of the majority, and we must fix this,” Netanyahu said.

Dery will be back at the cabinet “where he belongs, as soon as possible. We all need a strong Aryeh (which also means “lion” in Hebrew) at our side,” Netanyahu, without elaborating on how he will re-instate Dery, since the High Court’s ruling is binding.

Israeli designate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signs a document as member of Knesset Aryeh Deri stands next to him during a session at the plenum at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem December 28, 2022 REUTERS/ Ammar Awad

Netanyahu spoke at Shas party faction meeting in Knesset, where a number of coalition leaders and lawmakers came in a show of support for Dery and contempt for the High Court’s ruling.

United Torah Judaism lawmaker Moshe Gafni said “We’re with you through thick or thin,” while Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich called the ruling against Dery “a fight against this entire coalition.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin issued yet another harsh threat to the High Court, saying: “Those who abuse their power are likely to discover that it boomerangs.”

Dery has been convicted of criminal offences three times. In 1999 he was sentenced to three years in jail on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Last year, Dery was again indicted, this time on tax offences. His plea deal with the court forced him to resign from Knesset and promise not to return to public life.

“This is a person who has been convicted three times of offences throughout his life, and he violated his duty to serve the public loyally and lawfully while serving in senior public positions,” Supreme Court President Esther Hayout said.

“Having Dery in charge of two of the most important ministries in the government damages the image and reputation of the country’s legal system and contradicts principles of ethical conduct and legality,” she added.

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