Likud’s Bitan says ‘at least five’ lawmakers in party back freezing overhaul bills


Likud MK David Bitan said on Sunday that there were “at least five” Likud lawmakers who wanted to stop the government’s controversial judicial reform in order to reach a compromise with the opposition.

The coalition commands 64 votes in the 120-member Knesset, and five votes against the bills would block them. Bitan also claimed that the legislators in the ruling party were in complete agreement regarding the relaxation and delay of some of the legislation.

“In my opinion, the reform can be stopped for a simple reason — we waited long enough; nothing will happen if we wait another two months,” he said in an interview with Channel 12.

Bitan joins other senior Likud figures who have called for a pause or compromise in the legislation. Likud MK Yuli Edelstein insisted on Saturday evening that the bills be frozen so that discussions could be held with the opposition, while Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar also called for some sort of compromise.

Coalition leaders were due to meet on Sunday evening to soften the legislation, while the Knesset’s Constitution, Justice and Law Committee convened on Sunday morning to prepare the judicial appointments bill for its second and full third reading, which it must pass to be in his law.

The far-right Religious Cynicism MK Simcha Rothman, the chairman of the panel and together with the Minister of Justice Yariv Levin, the main architect of the overhaul, that changes be made to the bill. The revised proposal would still give the ruling coalition control over the first two appointments to the Supreme Court opened during its tenure, but would require the support of at least one opposition MK and one judge on the panel to further make appointments for that purpose. court.

Israelis protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial reform in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets over the past two months to protest the overhaul.

Bitan told Channel 12 that he believes that Levin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “unfortunately do not understand” “if these ‘mad predictions’ prove to be true, Likud will end his career.”

Preventing such a move is “under our control,” he said.

Party members did not want to discuss the issue inside faction meetings because of recordings released to the press, Bitan said. In one recording of such a meeting, which was broadcast to the media on Tuesday, Edelstein criticized the coalition government for its relentless push for the reform.

Bitan also accepted that Levin had yet to sit down with Likud MKs who wanted to freeze the legislative process.

“I sat with him two weeks ago. He told me, ‘Let me pass the first reading, don’t create problems for me, but after that, we’ll discuss the relaxation of the bills and everything.’ So far, it hasn’t happened yet,” said Bitan.

In another year, “no one will remember why this happened. Now, this is for us, we are the government, we are responsible for what is happening and so I am fighting for them, for the country and also for the Likud,” he said.

Bitan, once one of Netanyahu’s staunchest defenders, has recently clashed with his party leader, particularly over his handling of coalition negotiations with right-wing Likud and Haredi partners. He is currently the head of the Knesset Economic Committee.

Illustrations: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with then-coalition chairman David Bitan in the Knesset plenum, with then-tourism minister Yariv Levin sitting left, April 5, 2017. (Hadas Parush /Flash90)

Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has advanced legislation aimed at weakening the Supreme Court and giving it control over the appointment of judges. He says the plan is a long overdue measure to curb what he sees as too much influence by unelected judges.

But critics say the plan will destroy Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances by concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his parliamentary majority. They also say it is an attempt by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, to escape justice.

Business leaders, Nobel-winning economists and prominent security officials spoke out against it, military reservists threatened to stop reporting for duty, and even some of Israel’s closest allies, including the United States, Netanyahu slowly argued down. Repeated attempts by President Isaac Herzog to reach a compromise have yet to bear fruit.

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