12 February 2023

Source: Recording provided in Ma’ariv online, 17 minutes with introduction https://www.maariv.co.il/news/politics/Article-980090  

This is not an official governmental translation, February 12, 2023.

Citizens of Israel, we are in the midst of fateful days. For our people, for our country. The things I say here tonight will be piercing and painful; and some of them will not be moved to one side or another. In the last weeks, I worked with all my might to bring about broad agreement. Both sides need to understand that if only one side wins, and it doesn’t matter which side — we will all lose, the State of Israel will lose.

The shaky and painful Israeli reality has taken me in recent weeks to comfort families who lost their loved ones in the wave of criminal terrorism. Family after family, from all the shades of Israeli society, looked at me with tearful eyes and begged me, their cry not for themselves nor for their grief, but to do everything to stop the madness, the division that threatens us all. 

These dear families joined the voices of millions, from all sides of the political map, who ask for one thing in the last few weeks — not to step into the abyss; to stop the explosive fire of polarization, before it consumes us. We are no longer in a political debate, but on the brink of constitutional and social collapse.

And so, as Israeli presidents used to do in the past in such extreme cases — I refuse to stand by. I see and hear the demonstrations all over the country, a huge crowd of patriots — who exercise the right to protest, a fundamental right in democracy — and are absolutely committed to the fate of the people and the country. I feel, we all feel, that we are just before a collision — and even a violent collision; that the explosive was left before detonation, and that we are on the verge of “brother against brother.”

I ask, I beg, each and every one of you — my Israeli brothers and sisters — the threats from outside are big enough. Violence of any kind — and even more so violence against public servants and elected officials — is a red line that we must not cross under any circumstances. When choosing between breakup and partnership — I choose partnership. We choose partnership.

There are a number of basic assumptions that are important to consider, in relation to the reform that is on the agenda. The elected house of the people is the Knesset. Even within the balanced and desirable relations between the authorities — this is the house of the sovereign. The government elected by the Knesset has the right to implement policies. The relationship between the government authorities is based on checks and balances, without which “man would have swallowed up his fellow,” but changes can be a completely legitimate move.

Reform is also a basis for welcome change, for growth. to match reality. No authority is allowed to be fixed. The judiciary must be a home for the diversity of opinions in Israeli society. The fact that there is not enough diversity, for example there are no judges of Mizrahi origin in the Supreme Court, has troubled me for many years.

The proposed reform did not appear out of nowhere. It is the product of a camp that feels that an imbalance has developed between the authorities, and that boundaries have been crossed in this matter over the years. And no less than that — it is the product of deep pain and frustration, which reached its peak in the disengagement from Gush Katif and northern Shomron. This pain of our brothers and sisters is real, rejecting it and ignoring it is a big mistake.

And on the other hand, and I would like to emphasize: The responsibility to listen, to feel the pain — of all parts of the people, and certainly when they are expressed in anxieties and deep concerns — is imposed first and foremost on those who hold the government institutions at this time. I believe that the totality of the parts of the reform in its current form raise deep concerns about their potential negative impact on the democratic foundations of the State of Israel.

The Israeli justice system is the glory of our country. The court, and Israel’s judges, protect society and the state — it really does. Against crime, against outside attacks on IDF soldiers, against the loss of the foundations of justice, law and morality, and — also against stepping on the rights of the person and the citizen. We are a country of law — and we have to thank our professional, responsible, independent and non-dependent judiciary for that.

There are millions of citizens here who, along with diaspora Jewry and great Israel lovers around the world, see the reform as a real threat to Israeli democracy. They fear that the reform in its current form erases and uproots all checks and balances, and they are anxious that no one will be left to protect the citizen from the power of the government.

This pain of our brothers and sisters is real, rejecting it and ignoring it is a big mistake. Whoever imagines ?  or even agreement, without addressing and acknowledging the pain of his sisters and brothers from the other camp — simply proves that he has no idea what he is talking about. And there was already someone who said: “How many ears does a person need to hear someone who is shouting?”.

I read with concern the intelligence reports, including reports of our enemies watching us with hand-wringing and pleasure, saying: “Let them do our work.” Is there a bigger warning sign than this?! I have met leaders from all walks of life — elected officials and community leaders, rabbis, academics, spirituality, economics, and local government, social activists and leaders of public opinion. Those who support the reform completely, and those who strongly oppose it. From these long, comprehensive and in-depth conversations — I state with certainty: It is possible to reach a broad agreement, that you can put the citizens of Israel above all debate. Yes — it is possible!

Tonight I would like to present five principles that will be the basis for immediate and purposeful negotiations, which will regulate the relationship between the powers of government: The first, binding and most fundamental principle — as a condition for everything — is the legislation of the “Basic Law: The Legislation” — which will regulate the relationship to laws in the State of Israel, both ordinary laws and basic; and the relationship of the legislative authority with the judicial one; and will bring constitutional stability. No more fundamental laws that pop up like mushrooms after the rain; A basic law will enter the book of laws as such only after the Knesset has voted in favor of it with broad agreement, and in a process that will include four readings, under conditions that will be agreed upon in negotiations. There will be no judicial review of fundamental laws enacted in this manner.

Basic Law: The Legislation will also anchor the Supreme Court’s authority to exercise judicial review of laws that are not basic laws, through the composition and majority determined by consensus. On the other hand, in the “Basic Law: The Legislation” the content of the legislature’s authority to override a judgment that invalidates a law enacted by the Knesset will be determined, through a majority and a procedure to be determined by negotiation and agreement.

The second principle directly concerns the judicial burden. The citizens of Israel are paying a heavy price today for the huge gap between the State of Israel and the rest of the reformed countries of the world, in everything related to the quantitative ratio between judges and citizens. In OECD countries, the number of judges per 100,000 people is three times greater than in Israel. The Israeli government, in coordination with the president of the Supreme Court, needs to solve this enormous challenge, and create already in the next budget a reform that will reduce this gap through a multi-year plan.

The third principle refers to the trust between the legal system and the citizens of Israel. Trust is a very basic value in the relationship between a citizen and any governmental authority. In Israel, over eight hundred thousand new legal proceedings are opened every year, and the system does not meet the burden. This harms the efficiency, quality, and trust of the citizens in the system. I call on the minister of justice and the president of the Supreme Court to jointly come up with a plan that will be approved by a government decision, with the aim of helping the justice system become more efficient, which will put an end to the torture and the unbearable procrastination, and above all — increase public trust. We owe it to the citizens of Israel.

The fourth principle establishes the method of electing judges in Israel. I propose here today that the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee be changed immediately so that it reflects a proper and fair balance and equality between the authorities, and will not allow a built-in majority for any of the systems, both governmental and judicial. The mechanism for selecting judges should be based on agreement and cooperation, and not on endless rounds of submission on the one hand and vetoes on the other.

According to the proposal — each of the three authorities will have equal representation in the committee, in addition to public representatives appointed in coordination and agreement, and I emphasize — coordination and agreement, between the minister of justice and the president of the Supreme Court. Among the representatives of the legislative authority there will be an opposition representative, who will be elected by the opposition. The manner of selecting the public representatives, including their threshold conditions and the issue of the attorneys’ representation in the committee — will be agreed upon through negotiations between the parties. As mentioned, none of the systems will have a built-in majority.

The fifth and last principle deals with reasonability. Unlimited opportunity to use the reasonability test could change the infrastructure for a disproportionate entry of the judicial branch, into a distinct and designated territory of the executive authority and the legislative branch.** There is room for the use of the reasonability test, which today is anyway limited to cases of extreme improbability, while demarcating and distinguishing between an elected rank and an appointed rank. Knowing the positions of the parties, I believe that they can and should create a broad agreement also regarding the reason for reasonableness.

The five principles that I listed are the beginning and not the end. The principles I lay down here are a basis for an arrangement. I appeal to the representatives of the governing authorities — the chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the minister of justice and the president of the Supreme Court, please, from the bottom of my heart — to stop this demonic dance! Turn to conversation. Lower the walls. Build the bridges.

It is possible and necessary to reach an agreement in a short time, based on these principles. An agreement can be reached! The President’s House is fully committed to the issue and is open at all hours of the day for talks that will advance any cooperation arrangement you choose. From a joint meeting, through the establishment of an action team, to a committee that will deal with formulating the agreements. Any way you choose, any time you choose. Provided that we move to a constructive and sustaining discourse, and abandon the deceptive, belittling and nullifying discourse.

I address the chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset and turn to the coalition, I ask not to bring the law to the first reading – against this background of bickering, polarization, conflict and disagreement, for heaven’s sake; and consider the principles I proposed here today as a basis for further discussions in the committee — both coalition and opposition. Even before the first reading.

The biggest challenge of all is keeping the people of Israel as one people. As mentioned, I am fully committed to this, and if required — I may even request to appear before the committee myself, in a precedential and exceptional manner, in order to present the proposed principles in depth. I am ready to do anything — I repeat — everything! So that we can overcome this difficult dispute.

Citizens of Israel, I would like to conclude my words by thanking you, all the multitudes of the House of Israel who have contacted me in recent weeks. To everyone who took part, suggested, and pushed. The spectacular Israeli mosaic is the secret of our strength. Israeli diversity brings with it controversies. Conflicts and arguments cannot be denied, but since time immemorial we have known to give more space to what unites us. We knew how to be smart and see that the distance between us is the distance of an outstretched hand. The time has come to outstretch a hand.

For the citizens of Israel of all positions, beliefs and perceptions. For the sake of the three branches and their relationship. For the sake of the security forces who look at us with eager anticipation — that we will realize the eternal unity of Israel in whose name and strength they act. For the bereaved families and for the silver tray — the precious sacrifices we made over the years. For the sake of future generations, that the stable fabric of our lives here — in this wonderful piece of land — is necessary for their existence and prosperity.

For the sake of the people living in Zion, and for the Diaspora of Israel. So that the whole world — our supporters and our enemies alike — will see that the Israeli dispute is a basis for national agreement, for a firm cohesion that will face any challenge. For the values of the Declaration of Independence — which are the bedrock of our existence. For the Jewish and democratic state of Israel. For the Jewish and democratic state of Israel. did for them. They did and for us. God will give courage to his people, God will bless his people with peace.

** This sentence does not flow well in English