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Report: PM said judicial reform of US national security adviser will be softened

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told US national security adviser Jake Sullivan that the government’s controversial judicial reform will not be as dramatic as it was presented, according to a TV report on Sunday.

The unsourced report on Channel 12 news said Netanyahu told Sullivan during the pair’s meeting last week in Jerusalem that he would work to ensure that any judicial reform passed with broad agreement and that the final legislation would be watered down from the hardline version. presented. earlier this month by Minister of Justice Yariv Levin.

The network said Sullivan told the Israeli prime minister that “the liberal and democratic public [in the US] and we in the government don’t like the direction you’re taking with regard to judicial reform”.

He ostensibly added that “if there is damage to democratic values, it will be difficult for us to offer unwavering and unhesitating support to Israel.”

Netanyahu reportedly replied that, as far as he was concerned, any reform would be passed “with broad consensus and will not be passed as it is currently presented”.

Pressure by the Netanyahu government to remake the judiciary would include moving the appointment of judges to political control and severely limiting the Supreme Court’s oversight of the government, creating a mechanism to re-legislate laws overturned by the court. His government says it is necessary to correct the balance of power between the political and judicial powers. Critics, including more than 100,000 Israelis who took to the streets on Saturday night to protest the overhaul plan, say it threatens democratic institutions and endangers civil liberties by giving virtually all power to the ruling coalition.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan meets with President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem, January 18, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Channel 12 noted that, within the coalition, Netanyahu delivered a different message, even telling party heads that he needed “silence in front of the settlement outpost to push judicial reform forward”. Netanyahu’s far-right allies have reacted angrily to the evacuation of an illegal West Bank outpost in recent days.

In public comments, neither Netanyahu nor Sullivan mentioned judicial reform, which dominated headlines in Israel for weeks and caused controversy abroad as well.

On Thursday, a US official confirmed that Sullivan had raised the controversial issue, but did not elaborate. Netanyahu’s office also declined to comment.

According to Channel 13 news, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides has held several meetings in Israel in recent weeks regarding US concerns about the planned reform.

Nides told The Times of Israel in an interview published on Sunday that the US will not “tell [Israelis] how to build your judicial system”. At the same time, however, Nides added: “The Prime Minister has told us that he wants to do big things. And we also want to do great things. But if we’re going to achieve those things, we can’t wake up and have the backyard on fire. So he’s going to have to manage the things we care about… effectively.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s cabinet meeting saw several ministers attack the High Court over its disqualification of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as a minister, Channel 13 reported.

According to the network, the Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, stated that the court “would have decided differently” if Deri had been a member of a government led by the opposing Knesset bloc.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reads a letter to Shas President Aryeh Deri informing Deri that he must remove him from ministerial post, at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 22, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Shas’s MK Haim Biton, a minister in the Ministry of Education, said the court “is trying to break the [right-wing] block.”

At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu dismissed Deri, saying he was “compelled, with a heavy heart” to comply with Wednesday’s court ruling and end Deri’s dual appointment as minister of interior and health. The resignation will take effect on Tuesday. Deri’s Shas party has pressed Netanyahu to find a way for him to return to cabinet, and the prime minister has vowed to find “any legal way in which you can continue to contribute to the State of Israel”.

Deri pledged to continue to lead Shas as a legislator in the Knesset, chairing meetings of its factions and attending meetings of heads of coalition parties.

In his comments on Sunday, the prime minister criticized the court’s “unfortunate decision” to disqualify Deri from ministerial office, saying he ignored “the will of the people, as demonstrated by the considerable trust the public has placed in the elected representatives who form part of the my government, when it became clear to everyone that you would serve in the cabinet as a senior minister.

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