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Netanyahu rebuffs international criticism of overhaul: ‘We’ll make our own decisions’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed international criticism that his judicial overhaul is undermining democracy and said he will not be swayed by outside pressure.

Speaking to Fox News’s Mark Levin on Sunday, Netanyahu, in an apparent rebuke to the Biden administration and others, said other countries should not interfere with Israel’s internal issues.

Netanyahu said that in his 16 years in power, “I never commented on the internal debates of other democracies,” adding that “everybody has an opinion on Israel; they don’t have an opinion on the riots in France or the protests there, or the debates that happen in other countries.”

Netanyahu said the US was experiencing “a major debate between the Supreme Court and the executive right now and I really don’t care to comment on it.”

The Biden administration has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the overhaul, calling on the government not to advance the legislation without first reaching a broad consensus on the moves.

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But Netanyahu vowed he would not be influenced by international pressure.

“We’ll make our own decisions. In democracies, sovereign states, sovereign democracies, the elected representatives of the people make the decisions and that’s how it’s going to be in Israel.”

Last week, lawmakers approved a measure that prevents judges from striking down government and ministerial decisions on the grounds that they are “unreasonable.” The law was approved by all 64 coalition members — with the entire 56-strong opposition boycotting the vote — despite sustained mass 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.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu said he was still trying to reach an agreement, but blamed the opposition for the failure of talks.

He said three months of negotiations had led nowhere because the “opposition is held hostage by an extreme minority that organizes all these protests and demonstrations.”

“I’m still trying to get a consensus because it is better for democracy that judicial changes are done with as broad a consensus as you can,” he said.

The opposition, however, blames Netanyahu.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid on Sunday demanded an 18-month freeze on all legislation aimed at overhauling the judiciary as a condition for his Yesh Atid party returning to negotiations with the coalition on judicial reforms.

Yesh Atid party head MK Yair Lapid addresses the Knesset plenum. July 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid, speaking from the Knesset rostrum on the last day before summer recess, said that such a freeze must be cemented into law for his party to trust it.

“As long as there is no legislative freeze, there is no point and no sense to talk about other laws or agreements, because it is quite clear that the government will run away again at the last minute,” Lapid said to the Knesset.

Yesh Atid and fellow opposition party National Unity walked away from floundering compromise talks in June, alleging the coalition had acted in bad faith on a related issue: its efforts to avoid staffing and convening the committee that elects new judges, apparently in a bid to wait until the composition of the panel could be changed in order to give the government more influence.

In his interview with Fox, Netanyahu reiterated his claim that the overhaul would actually strengthen Israeli democracy by restoring a balance of power between branches of government, calling Israel’s Supreme Court “the most activist judicial court on the planet.”

Netanyahu said no other country had a “reasonableness clause,” and moreover the courts still had plenty of ways to act as an effective balance. “This is presented by our opponents as being this awful end to democracy. If that’s the case, you have no democracies anywhere else on Earth.”

Netanyahu again said the actual threat to Israeli democracy came from threats by reservists to stop showing up for duty.

Anti-overhaul activists protest against the government’s judicial overhaul, on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, on July 29, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“The day that Israel’s elected government succumbs to threats from former generals, that’s the end of democracy and we are not going to let it happen,” he said.

However, Netanyahu rebuffed a statement from host Levin that his opponents were engaged in “treason.”

“It’s not treason, it’s just illegitimate and wrong.”

Netanyahu’s interview with Fox was one of several he has given in recent days to the foreign press while apparently boycotting the mainstream Israeli media.

Netanyahu told Fox that the Israeli press was misrepresenting the overhaul debate.

“It’s not what you read, it’s not what you hear, it’s not what the news media are covering. They are just wrong,” he said.