“A golden path”: the president launches his framework offer for the overhaul of justice

President Isaac Herzog revealed his proposed “people’s framework” to replace government plans to radically overhaul the justice system on Wednesday, in a prime-time address to the nation in which he urged both sides to debate. “not to destroy the country” in a power struggle for the judiciary, but rather seize the opportunity for a “formative constitutional moment”.

Herzog called his plan, drafted after hundreds of hours of deliberation over the past few weeks with politicians, lawyers and experts from all political walks of life, a “golden middle road” that offers the best chance of achieving a broad national reform agreement.

He warned that having heard first-hand from hundreds of Israelis in recent weeks their impassioned views on the issue, “Those who think a civil war is a border we won’t cross, have none idea.”

Shortly after Herzog released his offer, Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs appeared to play it down, saying it was “a unilateral proposal from the president, not a deal in any way.” with anyone in the coalition”.

The central tenets of the proposal, as presented on a recently launched website (in Hebrew), include:

  • Changes to the Judicial Appointments Committee, as demanded by the architects of the reshuffle, with judges on the panel no longer able to veto nominees as they can today. However, the coalition will also not benefit from the desired automatic majority within the committee. The panel would be made up of four coalition members, two opposition members, three judges and two public representatives appointed by the Minister of Justice in agreement with the President of the Supreme Court. A majority of 7 out of 11 members will be required to confirm an appointment.
  • Changes to Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws will require four readings in the Knesset plenum, with the fourth requiring 80 lawmakers in favor. Any changes to the electoral laws would require 80 deputies at the four readings. Existing basic laws will be reaffirmed. Once approved, the Supreme Court will not be allowed to revise the Basic Laws.
  • The rights to equality, freedom of expression and protest will be enshrined in fundamental laws.
  • When considering legislation (beyond the Basic Laws), the High Court will convene with 11 judges, with 8 judges needed to strike down a law.
  • The High Court will not be able to overrule ministerial appointments or government policy decisions based on “unreasonableness”. However, the clause can still be used when reviewing the actions of public authorities.
  • Government legal advisers will not become personal appointments. However, a minister will have the right to replace their legal adviser in the event of significant and persistent disagreements that affect their ability to work together. The position of legal adviser will continue to bind the government.

“We are in the midst of a deep and disturbing crisis,” Herzog said. “But I truly believe with all my heart that today we also face a major historic opportunity.”

He called his plan “an opportunity for a balanced and intelligent constitutional arrangement and an agreement on the relations of the authorities in our Jewish and democratic country, in our beloved country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting on the state budget, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 12, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

“We are at a crossroads: a historic crisis or a defining constitutional moment.”

Last week, Herzog denounced the government’s current judicial review legislation as “oppressive” and harmful to democracy, and called for it to be scrapped immediately and replaced with a consensus-based reform framework.

The president said the national crisis sparked by coalition efforts to weaken the justice system was “a disaster” and “a nightmare”. He insisted it was the responsibility of “heads of state” in government to set aside the frantic legislative burden lest the country slide into a societal and constitutional abyss.

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