JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s president on Sunday appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay a contentious plan to overhaul the country’s judicial system and instead seek a compromise with his political opponents.
President Isaac Herzog issued the appeal in a prime-time nationwide address a day before Netanyahu’s coalition is to take its first steps towards implementing the plan in a parliamentary vote. The proposed reforms have triggered mass demonstrations, opposition from wide swaths of Israeli society and even drawn a veiled warning from President Joe Biden.
“I feel, we all feel, that we are in a moment before a collision, even a violent collision, a barrel of explosives before a blast,” Herzog said.
Herzog’s job is largely ceremonial. But the president is meant to serve as a unifying force and moral compass for a country that is deeply divided.
Netanyahu and his supporters say the changes are needed to rein in a judiciary that wields too much power.
But his critics say the plan, which includes proposals to weaken Israel’s Supreme Court, will damage the country’s fragile system of democratic checks and balances. They also say that Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, is motivated by a personal grudge against the legal system and that he and his allies have a deep conflict of interest.
“They want to destroy the system because the system wasn’t nice to them,” said Eliad Shraga, chairman of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel. “This is a hostile takeover by a bunch of crooks.”
The movement has planned a mass demonstration outside the Knesset, or parliament, on Monday, when Netanyahu’s coalition is expected to present the first legislation for its sweeping overhaul. Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend.
Herzog urged Netanyahu to put off Monday’s vote and instead begin dialogue with his opponents. Saying that both sides have valid points, he offered a five-point plan as a basis for dialogue.
There was no immediate response from Netanyahu’s office.