Dichter, possibly in line for defense chief seat, says he will back overhaul

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Two Likud Knesset members indicated that they could vote against parts of the government’s judicial reform to reverse course on Sunday and vowed to step on the toe of the party, apparently stopping an internal rebellion brewing before it could get off the ground.

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, who is reportedly being considered as a replacement for Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and freshman MK Eli Dallal both said they will vote in favor of pushing various bills through the Knesset as part of the government’s plan to appoint several judges to transfer. powers for the executive and legislative branches.

Dichter had reportedly backed Gallant after the chief made a televised speech Saturday night calling for the reform effort to be halted so talks could take place. But on Sunday morning he issued a statement offering unequivocal support for the judicial shakeup.

“I am well aware of the public’s concerns, but — so there is no doubt — I am still in favor. Judicial reform is needed and will be implemented,” the statement read.

He noted that he had previously voted in favor of parts of the overhaul and would continue to do so on party lines, adding that he was in agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin .

“My Likud colleagues know very well that I will not lend a hand to uster Likud,” he said.

The statement closely followed reports that Dichter, the former head of Shin Bet, had spoken to Netanyahu about taking over the defense portfolio. According to Hebrew media accounts, Dichter had assured Netanyahu that he would vote in favor of the reform.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant seen during a trip near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, March 16, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Netanyahu, who was returning from a trip to London on Sunday morning, has yet to publicly comment on Gallant’s comments but is thought to be mulling a shot at him or threatening to do so if he does not stand behind the government.

Likud MK Eli Dallal also clarified his support for the overhaul on Sunday, and reportedly sent a message to other party lawmakers saying he would vote with the faction.

“For the sake of clarity, I am in favor of the reform. Last week I revealed my opinion at a meeting of the Likud faction and suggested a freeze until after the [Passover] break,” he wrote, according to Channel 12 news. “I will act according to the decisions of the faction.”

On Saturday night, Gallant gave a televised address in which he warned that the split in society was damaging the military and called on his colleagues to suspend the reform push and negotiate a compromise package that has broad support.

His stance drew public support from Likud MKs Yuli Edelstein and David Bitan, raising hopes within the opposition that an internal Likud revolt could keep the coalition from being able to pass the reform legislation.

But the statements from Dichter and Dallal, reminders of Netanyahu’s fealty from allies even under duress, probably mean that the coalition will still be the number needed to pass the bills.

Likud Knesset Member Eli Dallal (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Dichter’s decision to back the overhaul, widely seen as an attempt to secure the defense minister’s job, has drawn widespread criticism, with protest organizers planning a demonstration outside his Ashkelon home for 6:30pm on Sunday.

“To be defense minister, Avi Dichter endangers Israel’s security and turns his back on the soldiers,” tweeted opposition leader Yair Lapid. “He knows that the coup threatens our international immunity and the security of the citizens of Israel, but it is a terrible job.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of former generals signed their names to a letter supporting Gallant and thanking him for “sending a message of leadership, responsibility and seeing the broad tapestry of all aspects of national security. “

“Your words were an expression of leadership with the strength to lower the flames of division and even prevent disaster, and it helps to create an atmosphere of trust conducive to compromise and respectful and constructive dialogue, the basis for trust restoration. ,” they wrote.

The mission was signed by several generals who held top command positions in the highest ranks of the army, including former air force chief Eliezer Shkedi, former navy chief Eliezer Marom and former military intelligence chief Aharon Ze’ev-Farkash.

Israelis protest against the government’s planned judicial reform in Tel Aviv on March 25, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Gallant, Edelstein and Bitan have not said how they will vote on the reform bills if they are brought up for their final full Knesset reading next week, as planned. Four rebel lawmakers who voted against the legislation would deny a majority in the 120-member parliament to the 64-member coalition. Even if they abstain, it would be much easier for the High Court to strike down an amendment to one of the semi-constitutional Basic Laws if it succeeds with less than 61 MK votes, according to the Hebrew media.

Amid massive protests that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets, Netanyahu said in a speech on Thursday night that he would moderate parts of the planned shakeup in the future. But he also said that the Knesset would vote in the coming days on a bill to put the main appointments of the Supreme Court, including its presidency, directly under the control of a coalition government. It is not yet clear when the vote will be held, although Tuesday has been mentioned as a likely target. The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened on Sunday morning to continue the process of preparing and approving the bill for the Knesset’s second and third (final) reading.

Reformers have drawn a line in the sand on the appointments bill, saying it will politicize the court, remove key checks on government power and seriously damage Israel’s democratic character.

On Sunday morning Edelstein indicated that he might vote for the reform of the legislation, telling Army Radio that it was no coincidence that he was absent during votes on earlier stages of the legislative process.

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