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Cartoon in key Haredi newspaper says ‘no thanks’ to judicial overhaul

The image in Yated Ne’eman, sketched by Yoni Gerstein, shows an ultra-Orthodox man saying “no thanks” to a man who appears to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offering suits labeled “judicial reform,” “defense reform,” “technology reform” and “economic reform” at a store named “brands in your style.”

It is the latest publication by the newspaper to express skepticism over the cost of the controversial plans, which have sparked nationwide protests, vehement opposition from top judicial, security, economic and public figures, repeated warnings from allies — chief among them the US — and thousands of military reservists vowing to quit service.

Last month, the paper published an editorial advocating compromise on some elements of the overhaul and questioning its wisdom, indicating flagging support for the reform from a key coalition partner.

The immediate subject of the article was the “reasonableness bill,” approved by the Knesset last week, which prevents courts from relying on the principle of reasonableness in evaluating governmental and ministerial decisions.

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The piece was in line with UTJ’s pragmatic approach to the overhaul, which it supports as a key ally of Netanyahu’s coalition, but which it fears is generating an antagonism that could jeopardize the interests of its constituency.

Yeshiva students study at the Kamenitz Yeshiva, in Jerusalem on July 25, 2023 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“Following the correction of the reasonableness clause, we need to recalibrate and ask ourselves: At what price?” the editorial read. “This is, after all, something in which we have no direct stake. Should we bear the burden of the outcome of this war?”

The editorial went on to note that even after all the changes sought by the overhaul promoters, the courts would remain secular and therefore irrelevant to ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The piece stressed the daily’s support of the legislation, which is aimed at sidelining a judiciary that many in the Haredi community feel is biased against them. This includes the override bill, another piece of legislation in the overhaul package, which would allow the Knesset to override laws struck down by the court.

“Granted, the override clause is necessary to ensure the status of yeshiva students and to prevent various attacks on sacred issues,” the editorial reads, referencing a 2017 Supreme Court ruling against the exemption granted to yeshiva students from military and national service. “This is an indispensable protection, especially as the coalition agreement is committed to this demand.”

Netanyahu has said that the override clause is no longer on the table, but Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, who leads UTJ, said in a radio interview in July that the prime minister had promised him that the government would still pass such a bill in some form.

File: Activists protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, outside Har Hamor Yeshiva in Har Homa, East Jerusalem, on July 5, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

In March, UTJ in a statement said it supports the overhaul but would not oppose Netanyahu “reaching understandings and agreements of the widest scope possible, to lower the flames and stop the national division.”

Cabinet secretary Yossi Fuchs said Thursday that legislation will be advanced in the coming months that will lower the age at which Haredi yeshiva students can enter the workforce without fear of conscription from 26 to 21 or 22.

At present, tens of thousands of Haredi men either avoid working or work off the books amid fear of being drafted and losing special government stipends paid out to exempted yeshiva students younger than 26.

Canaan Lidor contributed to this report.