In the shadow of chaos: Embassies get talking points for judicial overhaul

Diplomats around the world have been fielding questions about the meaning of the new legislation and how it will affect the country; They are told to say that Israel is a "vibrant democracy" - and that the demonstrations that the government often attacks are actually evidence of this
Since passage of the law to abolish the use of the reasonableness standard, and in the wake of the chaos caused by it, the government has been faced with many questions from around the world – as well as pressure to return to compromise talks and strive for broad agreements.
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First, the internal pressure: In recent weeks, President Isaac Herzog, through his representative Oved Yehezkel, has led heated talks to settle the issue of the reasonableness standard with two parties close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, and attorney Michael Rabello. On Sunday, before the dramatic vote in the Knesset, the parties managed to agree on a agreed text that the president and his people believed was something that the coalition could live with, but then the house of cards was destroyed.
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מליאת הכנסת
מליאת הכנסת
Discussions in the Knesset plenum on the day the judicial reform legislation was passed
(Photo: Reuters/Amir Cohen)
The working assumption was that if the reasonableness law was passed by agreement, there would be an extended period of time to return to negotiations at the President's Residence. However, on Sunday the coalition set the deadline for negotiations at December 31, or about five months. This meant that there would be talks lasting several months and, if they failed, Justice Minister Yariv Levin would bring to the plenum for approval changes in the composition of the judicial selection committee. Netanyahu, in his statement after the legislation was passed, was even more stingy and said he would be willing to talk about compromise only until November - that is, only about four months.
The opposition firmly refused these conditions, insisting on a 15-month moratorium. According to the opposition, postponing the legislation until December is a gun to the head and a message that the coalition is giving a fixed period of time after which if the opposition does not align with it there will be a return to unilateral legislation.
Passing the legislation unilaterally created a flurry, and moved the ball into the coalition's court. Netanyahu's government will have to make a decision on whether it continues with unilateral laws even though these are fundamental regime changes, which in democracies it is customary to legislate by broad consensus, or whether it chooses to create an infrastructure that says that from now on all legislation will only be by consensus – including regarding the reasonableness standard, even though the law was passed.
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נתיבי איילון בתל אביב
נתיבי איילון בתל אביב
Demonstrations against judicial reform have raised concerns in countries around the world
(Photo: Nimrod Glickman)
The coalition needs to understand the dire consequences of the unilateral legislation on Israel, and it seems that all fronts are in danger: the economic (Israel's credit rating may drop), the political (see below) and military resilience and security (warnings of the incompetence of the army). From the moment the unilateral legislation was passed, the dangers became real - they are no longer just theoretical. Therefore, if the coalition wants to return to the talks, it first has to make a decision that it returns to seek full agreement on all the issues at hand.
In the meantime, the judicial overhaul is causing political damage to Israel and as long as it continues unilaterally, it could substantially damage relations with its most important ally, the United States.
The fact that Netanyahu has not met with Biden for seven months is perhaps the most striking manifestation of that political crisis. It already seems that normalization with Saudi Arabia and the expansion of the Abraham Accords are not in the cards for the Americans. In their last conversation, Biden promised Netanyahu that they would meet in the US later this year. Now after the first phase of judicial reform legislation, there is a question as to whether the invitation will actually come.
Israel has a political problem not only with the US but also with other countries in the West including: Germany, France, Great Britain and the European Union. Ironically, as Israel's relations with the West cool down, we should expect them to warm up with countries like Hungary, Poland and Turkey. But that is not the case. This is why Netanyahu was supposed to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week – a meeting that was postponed due to the implantation of a pacemaker in his heart.
Against the backdrop of all this, and following inquiries from Israeli diplomats who want to know what answer to give to the many questions they are being asked about the situation in Israel, the Foreign Ministry distributed information and instructions regarding the judicial overhaul to embassies around the world. Among the messages they are required to convey are that "Israel is a strong, stable and vibrant democracy", in which there is a public debate on the balance between the branches of government.
The message that should be conveyed to the world, as Netanyahu also does in his interviews with the world media, is that the goal of the overhaul is to "strengthen the status of the legislative authority, based on the perception that in recent years the balance between the authorities has changed and its position has weakened." The demonstrations, which government officials often attack repeatedly, will be presented to the world as "an example of Israeli democracy." The talks at the president's residence are also mentioned in the instructions. It is also emphasized that the government's decisions will continue to be subject to judicial review on grounds other than reasonableness.
These instructions come amid worldwide doubts about what is happening in Israel. An Israeli senior official said that he received a phone call in the middle of the night from a leader of a Muslim country who saw the stormy demonstrations on CNN and asked him: "Are you having a coup?" The Israeli official explained to him that in Israeli democracy it is allowed to demonstrate in the streets. The Muslim senior was dumbfounded.
The prime minister, for his part, knows very well that if he continues on this path it will have a heavy political price. Netanyahu may have already resigned himself to the cold shoulder he will receive from Washington and will patiently pray for the November 2024 elections in the hope that the Republicans will win and then, perhaps, he can breathe easy again.
Now either the prime minister will indeed try to warm relations with countries like China – which has invited him for a visit, or he will convince the US and the West that he is actually looking for compromise and consensus. After the legislation to cancel reasonableness standard, which was done against the pleas of all Israel's friends in the world, it is not certain that they will believe him. He will need Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz to tell the world that there is, indeed, a real dialogue. It is doubtful that they will give it to him.
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