Lapid Slams Netanyahu's Attacks on Judicial System

The Israeli prime minister pointed to Netanyahu's remarks at the start of his trial, saying his attacks on the judicial system 'isn't just bullying... it's a plan of action'

Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit
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Prime Minister Yair Lapid at the annual conference of the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv, on Monday.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid at the annual conference of the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv, on Monday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Monday sharply criticized the attacks on Israel’s justice system by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies, saying “the legal establishment is under an attack with the goal to dismantle and destroy it.”

Pointing to Netanyahu’s remarks at the start of his criminal trial when he was still prime minister, Lapid said, “When the prime minister of Israel stands on the courthouse steps, surrounded by his ministers, and says, ‘Police, the prosecution and the media officials are trying to stage a coup in defiance of the people’s will, what are the people supposed to think he wants them to do?’”

Speaking at the annual conference of the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv, Lapid pointed to the attacks on the legal system being made by Knesset members who support Netanyahu, among them Yariv Levin, David Amsalem and Bezalel Smotrich. “It’s not just bullying, not just an attempt by a defendant to escape blame, it’s a plan of action.”

Lapid vowed to defend the justice system against those “who seek to do it harm,” even as he sees room for change. “The justice system is in need of reform … but this change needs to serve the country, not those who are trying to destroy it for personal reasons.”

Esther Hayut, president of the Supreme Court, also addressed the issue at Monday’s conference. “In recent years, attacks on the justice system have been growing, becoming stronger during elections and turning into a shovel in which to bury it, all for the sake of political gain,” she said.

Hayut said it was a global phenomenon, which she termed akin to “climate change for democracy.”

“This phenomenon has not passed the State of Israel by and has manifested itself as dangerous attempts to politicize the justice system and undermine public trust in it,” Hayut said. She urged “leaving the judiciary out of the political game – in ordinary times and even more so during election periods.”

Hayut stressed that “in the justice system there are no judges of the right and no judges of the left. There are no judges ‘on behalf of’ and no judges ‘that are ours,’ just professionals who make rulings in accordance with the principles of the rule of law and human rights, without bias."

She noted that “these principles may at times lead to outcomes that have political impacts that aren’t to the liking of one political faction or another, but the judicial decision itself is based on the law and only on the law.”

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a Jerusalem court earlier this year.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar told the conference that Netanyahu and his allies are planning “to destroy everything that we have built here over the 74 years of the state’s existence.”

“We’re not talking about remarks by one MK or another that needs to be silenced right now in order to not disrupt the election …. There is an attempt underway to crush the system … We’re witness to a process of winning hearts and minds for a transition to another regime.”

Sa’ar, a leader in the National Unity alliance, said “the Netanyahu bloc’s thinly disguised plan” is to bring about “the complete politicization of the system for selecting judges – control by the executive branch – permit me to say, control by the head of the executive branch – permit me to say, by the prime minister, of the justice system.”

Sa’ar said they planned to accomplish this by transferring authority over the election of judges to the cabinet and by allowing the Knesset to reverse Supreme Court decisions by a simple majority in the coalition.

“If the government 100 percent controls the selection of judges and without any connection can, with nothing more than a coalition majority, overturn any and every court decision, what will be left of the courts? Of its power? Who will have the power to defend the average citizen? What about judicial review of the authorities?” asked Sa’ar.

He called them “a group of extreme anarchists who want to dismantle the foundations of the democratic and the legal systems that have been built here, and for that purpose they engage in ceaseless propaganda that presents it as the enemy of the people.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told the conference that “in recent years, voices have emerged that claim that the rule of law harms governance or even violates it. I completely disagree with this view. Governance and rule of law are one and the same. The proposals that have been made from time to time that seek to undercut the power of lawyers in public service, in particular those deemed to hold positions of public trust, should be personally loyal to elected officials, are wrong in my view. These proposals may in fact fail elected officials instead of helping them and may damage governance.”

Baharav-Miara said she was open to criticism but made clear: “I did not come to please anyone, I came to fulfill my role independently, professionally and in a businesslike way.”

Lawmakers from right-wing parties, most notably Amsalem, Shlomo Karhi and Galit Distal Atbaryan of Likud and Simcha Rothman of Religious Zionism, have come out against the conduct of the justice system and its top officials. Last week, Amsalem said in an interview with Channel 13 News, that the attorney general was “criminally appointed” and called her “excessively devoted” to Sa’ar. Amsalem said he wanted to pass legislation that would enable Baharav-Miara to be fired.

He also said in the interview that he would ask to be named the next justice minister and emphasized his commitment to “fixing the justice system,” which he called “unimaginably biased,” as well as his commitment to passing the superseding law that would empower the Knesset to overrule court decisions. “The judicial selection committee needs to be composed of politicians. It needs to be ministers and MKs,” he said.

In July, MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) warned the attorney general that if she approved the caretaker government’s appointment of the next chief of staff, she would be replaced when his party returned to power. Baharav-Miara subsequently gave her approval for the appointment.

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