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Herzog: Dialogue the only solution to ‘constitutional crisis’ public wishes to end

President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday urged political leaders to engage in dialogue to end what he called an “acute constitutional” crisis roiling society because, he said, that is what the majority of the public wants.

Herzog spoke at a memorial ceremony for former president Shimon Peres, held at the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem.

The president’s remarks came after earlier this week he put together a framework proposal to act as the basis for talks between the coalition and opposition over the former’s controversial plan to drastically overhaul the judiciary.

The overhaul plan has faced months of mass protests alongside warnings from economic and legal figures who say it will damage the country. Opponents have organized weekly demonstrations and strikes while thousands of reserve soldiers have said they will stop performing their duties if legislation of the scheme continues.

“The State of Israel has been in the midst of an acute constitutional and social crisis for almost nine months, which is extremely dangerously shaking society, the economy, and especially the security of the State of Israel,” Herzog said.

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Speaking of his “deep concern and great anxiety,” he stressed that “we must resolve the difficult and dangerous crisis between the branches of government, and determine the healthy and correct balance between them.”

“There is no way to a solution without dialogue, no way without listening and respect,” he said. We must understand that if one side wins and one side surrenders, we all lose.”

Tens of thousands of demonstrators protests against the government’s judicial overhaul legislation in Tel Aviv, July 22, 2023 (Gilad Furst)

“Everyone needs to think carefully about the consequences of our actions,” Herzog continued. “I am again calling on elected officials: It is time to show responsibility, look reality in the eyes, and act in every way to reach a broad consensus.”

Urging leaders to “reach out,” he said “the vast majority of the public wishes to end this crisis, kick this controversy off the agenda, and start working together on the really important things.”

Herzog also appeared to touch on a looming critical point when the High Court of Justice hears petitions against a segment of the judicial overhaul that has already been legislated. Should the court were to accept the petitions and strikes down the legislation — an amendment to a quasi-constitutional Basic Law — but the government then rejected the ruling, it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis.

“Israeli society must be preserved and Israeli democracy must be preserved, based on the rule of law, which of course includes full obedience to the court’s rulings,” Herzog said.

Peres’s daughter Tsvia Walden spoke at the memorial event, recalling that her father had feared a civil war in Israel, but was convinced it could never happen.

“He did not imagine that there would be a condescending discourse about separatism in our country. He did not imagine that relations within us would deteriorate to such a difficult place,” Walden said.

Also at the event, Peres’s granddaughter Mika Almog, an actress and screenwriter, made a silent protest against the government, holding up a banner reading, “I am campaigning also for you, grandfather.”

Almog wore a t-shirt with the slogan “There is no compromising on democracy”

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— Amos Pickel (@amospickel) September 6, 2023

Earlier, coalition and opposition lawmakers gave pessimistic responses to Herzog’s latest compromise proposal, with both sides accusing each other of not being prepared to resolve the political crisis.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a public appeal to opposition National Unity party leader MK Benny Gantz, imploring him to negotiate. Gantz responded in a press conference during which he said he is open to compromise, but dismissed the prime minister’s plea as “spin.”

Speaking to Radio 103 FM on Wednesday, MK Danny Danon of Netanyahu’s Likud party attacked Gantz, saying he fell short of expectations.

“We expected more openness from Gantz, he was disappointing,” he said. “The right thing is to negotiate, not go to the media.”

However, MK Alon Schuster of Gantz’s National Unity told the station, “I don’t believe Netanyahu.”

“There is something to talk about, there is no one to talk to at this stage,” he said.

Likud MK Danny Danon in the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Simcha Rothman, a member of the far-right Religious Zionism party that wants to implement the overhaul without compromise, released a video statement in which he reiterated the need to overhaul the court system, claiming the move was needed to preserve democracy.

“If the court decides on every issue, we will not be a democratic country,” Rothman said, referring to elements of the overhaul that would severely curtail judicial review. Opponents, who have launched months of mass protests, argue that the plan would sap the court of its power to act as a check and balance on the executive, dangerously eroding Israel’s democratic foundations.

Sources within the coalition’s far-right Otzma Yehudit told Walla that the party sees the reported framework as “a disgrace” representing a “capitulation on everything that the government and the coalition” has strived for in the judicial overhaul.

“This is total surrender and it is clear that all members of Otzma Yehudit will vote against such a proposal in the Knesset,” a source said. “We hope that Likud will come to their senses because [otherwise] it means surrendering to threats, pressures and refusals.”

Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli told Radio North 104.5 FM that she opposes negotiating with the government.

“I was of the opinion that it was wrong to hold talks with them from the start, they [opposition parties] went to discussions and then Netanyahu cheated them,” she said, referring to first round of failed talks earlier this year.