The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday issued a statement saying that Benjamin Netanyahu is categorically opposed to a bill allowing the Knesset to have the authority to vet – and if need be veto - Supreme Court candidates. The statement was issued shortly after a heated Knesset debate.
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Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni said: "You are seeking to destroy the Supreme Court and politicizing it. We shall stop you from doing so."
Meanwhile, the European Union announced it was concerned about the Boycott Law. A statement issued by EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said that the EU fears the effect the law will have on the freedom of Israeli citizens and organizations seeking to express political opinions in a non-violent manner.
The US State Department said it would not comment on the Boycott Law on the grounds it was an internal affair. Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that Israel was a vibrant democracy with strong institutions allowing its citizens to express concerns over any bill
During Wednesday's Knesset debate, Netanyahu rejected criticism that he failed to attend the Boycott Law vote and stressed he had in fact approved the bill.
Netanyahu. Fending off criticism (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
The debate was titled "The Netanyahu administration's failures" and was initiated by the opposition. Netanyahu slammed the Kadima party: "You initiated the bill. Key members of Kadima endorsed the original proposal. Why did MKs who endorsed the original bill decide to oppose it in its final version? Because there was pressure and you folded under pressure."
Referring to his absence from the vote, he said: "Make no mistake, I approved the bill. It would not have gotten here had I not."
Netanyahu explained his reasons for endorsing the bill: "I'm against boycotts. Both those directed against the state and those directed against groups of citizens. I'm against boycotts against Arabs, haredim, and Israeli citizens. We have friends living in Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel. Do you want to subdue them? Go to the Knesset, set up a government."
The prime minister added, "One can file an appeal with the Supreme Court, and we honor the Supreme Court. We shall honor and defend it."
He rejected criticism suggesting Israeli democracy had been violated and addressed MK Hanin Zoabi. "We have here an MK who participated in a provocative flotilla meant to break the state's naval blockade. You are lucky you are a member of the Israeli parliament and not the Syrian parliament for example." Zoabi caused a stir and was escorted out of the plenum hall.
Netanyahu concluded: "The legitimate debate is used to de-legitimize Israeli democracy. Israel has enough slanderers, so I'm asking you not to join them. Israeli democracy is a model democracy and shall always remain so."
Earlier, Netanyahu was fierecely criticized by various MKs. "You are one of the most consistent ideologists among Israel's prime ministers but it's a fanatical ideology. The problem is the ideology," MK Daniel Ben Simon said.
Opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni also inveighed against Netanyahu. Livni said Netanyahu "fled the Knesset" during a vote on the law. "You have no values because you are all talk, hollow slogans, and taking advantage of others' weakness for power," she added.
She warned that the Boycott Law will result in a boycott of Beersheba and Dimona and not the settlements, "because your government cannot make the distinction."
Barak against Boycott Law
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also addressed the Boycott Law and other laws, saying: "The Supreme Court is the keystone to Israel's democracy. Anyone who undermines its autonomy is undermining the harmony of democracy.
"Together with our friends in the Likud and in other factions, I'll keep fighting for the Supreme Court. We are the only party in the Knesset not divided on this issue. We really don't like the Boycott Law. When it reaches the High Court of Justice then we'll do what the HCJ says," said Barak.
He also called a bill giving the Knesset the power to veto Supreme Court justice nominations "dangerous" as they "contest the court's independence".
"I call upon the PM to talk it off the agenda," demanded Barak.
Attila Somfalvi and Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to this report
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