Compromise shaping up in Israel’s bitter dispute over judicial reform. Gantz’s star ascendant
President Yaakov Herzl on Monday, March 6 assembled a group of mayors and local council leaders to support his tireless efforts to get parties to sit down and talk after weeks of turbulent national conflict over the government’s judicial reform plan. Saturday night saw 180,000 demonstrators turn out for the ninth week across the country, accusing the government of a “regime coup” to destroy Israel’s democracy, while disrupting traffic and clashing with police. The protesters were denounced in their turn by ministers as “anarchists” or worse.
However, on Monday Herzog, sounding cautiously optimistic, said that after weeks of exploring ground for a compromise formula, he believed a solution was close, leaving only small gaps to be bridged. This formula was drawn up by a small group working with the president and consisting of four lawmakers – former IDF chief Gady Eisenkot and Hilli Tropper for the opposition and Yuli Edelstein and Danny Danon, for the ruling Likud.
Their only disadvantage of the presidential initiative is the lack of a leadership figure to sign it. While the demonstrations and protests appeared to be managed like a cohesive movement in opposition to the government, it has also seemed headless. The political opposition has been riding hard on the back of the wave of anti-government resistance, but the protesters themselves are politically diverse and often nonpartisan, united only by their pro-democracy slogan.
The mainstream media have also played up the drama of waves of national flags and violent clashes between demonstrators and police, and the incendiary comments coming from far-right ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, Channel 14 has gained rating by being more representative of the national mood. An opinion poll run on Monday showed 40pc popular support for the government’s judicial reform bill; 34pc want to see changes in the judicial and legal system and 4 percent would go along with the plan while dropping the override clause (which grants parliament power to override the High Court by a 61 majority). This left 22pc of the sample canvassed in full opposition to any changes in the law system.
The same poll singled out Benny Gantz, former defense minister and leader of the opposition National Camp party, to be gaining from the national turbulence as a responsible figure, with a 22pc rating as preferred prime minister, more than double his party’s election gain, and just two points behind Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition.
The incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu is still well ahead in the premiership stakes with 48pc support, despite being pilloried for one unpopular step after another in the two months of his current term. This may explain why he feels confident enough to persist in those steps while standing firm on pushing Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s judicial reform sections through parliament by the end of the month – in the face of massive domestic resistance, international denigration, and US censure. Netanyahu and Levin appear to believe that once their reform plan becomes law, the resistance movement will run out of steam. Its leaders will be faced either with accepting the Herzog formula or swallowing whole the entire package without dialogue or amendments.