The government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed through a contentious judicial reform overnight in a tumultuous parliamentary session, prompting an appeal from Israel’s president on Tuesday for dialogue and compromise.
Following the late-night parliamentary vote that saw two divisive pieces of legislation cross a preliminary barrier, Isaac Herzog said it was a “tough morning.”
The legislation is a component of significant reforms that the government has proposed that have garnered domestic and international condemnation, tens of thousands of demonstrators to the streets, and unease among investors and the financial community.
The dollar lost nearly 5% of its value against the dollar on Tuesday, continuing a month-long decline that has seen it recover over 2%.
Since investors have grown uneasy about the business climate, several Israeli corporations have announced that they are removing money from the nation. Israeli tabloids have also reported much larger cash withdrawals.
Opponents claim that the ongoing judicial reform will consolidate power in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and weaken the democratic system of checks and balances.
According to Netanyahu and his backers, the revisions will more effectively rein in an unduly powerful Supreme Court.
Herzog stated at a conference hosted by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that “many citizens across Israeli society, many people who voted for the coalition, are afraid for national unity.”
He pleaded with Netanyahu and his colleagues to open the lines of communication and forge an agreement on judicial reform.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu called for communication, saying he thought the gaps could be narrowed or filled. He remarked, “Let’s talk right now, without restrictions or justifications, so that we may come to a broad consensus for the benefit of all Israeli citizens.
Netanyahu’s detractors have urged him to halt the legislation before starting a conversation.
Tens of thousands of Israelis rallied outside the parliament before the vote, the second large-scale event in Jerusalem in recent weeks, the morning before Herzog’s speech.
Due to the persecution they experience at home and Israel’s continuous 55-year occupation of their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank, Israeli Palestinians, a minority who may stand to lose the most from the makeover, have largely remained on the sidelines.
Following more than seven hours of discussion that continued well past midnight, Netanyahu and his allies passed two of the proposed amendment to undermine the nation’s Supreme Court and strengthen the current parliamentary coalitions.
The Knesset passed the bills, which still need two more readings in parliament to become law, 63-47, giving the ruling coalition power over judge appointments and limiting the Supreme Court’s capacity to assess the legitimacy of significant laws known as “Basic Laws.”
Proposals to grant the parliament the authority to overrule Supreme Court judgments and regulate the selection of government legal counsel are also in the works.
Critics claim that the new arrangement will politicize government ministries because the advisers are current civil employees in the traditional sense.
On Tuesday, the UN human rights head urged Israel to “stop the proposed legislation changes and open them up for wider debate and consideration,” echoing calls for restraint from the United States.
According to Volker Türk, the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights, “Such issues at the core of the rule of law deserve the total consideration to ensure that any changes promote, rather than diminish, the ability of the judiciary — and other branches of Government — to protect the rights of all people in Israel.
According to a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank and released on Tuesday, 66% of respondents believe that the Supreme Court should have the authority to overturn laws that conflict with the Basic Laws, and 63% believe that the panel of politicians, judges, and lawyers that currently selects judges should be kept in place.
72% of the 756 respondents agreed that the opposing political factions should decide on the proposed judicial amendments.
Herzog, who acts as the most symbolic head of state, has tried to mediate talks between the increasingly antagonistic camps and urged Netanyahu and his allies to put off the divisive court reform.
After the nation’s fifth parliamentary election in less than four years, Netanyahu’s coalition government was formed in late December and is composed of ultranationalist and ultraOrthodox parties.
The longtime leader’s suitability primarily caused the political impasse to hold the office of prime minister while facing charges of fraud, breach of trust, and taking bribes, all of which Netanyahu has denied.