Justice Minister Yariv Levin and opposition leader Yair Lapid Monday exchanged harsh words over the Knesset podium as the political firestorm surrounding the former's proposed raft of judicial reforms refuses to subside.
The altercation occurred after Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and fellow centrist opposition lawmakers National Unity initiated motions of no confidence in Knesset following the proposed changes to the judiciary.
Before the motions were rejected, MKs from both factions claimed that the reform was blatantly tainted with personal interests and aimed at crushing the justice system and allowing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to escape his corruption trial.
“I fought for years for this path, which I believe in and which only a few shared,” Levin responded to his detractors in the chamber.
“It took a long time to convince, and to tell the truth, three indictments of this kind really contributed to a very broad public understanding that there are faults in the justice system that need to be corrected, and there is no doubt that it contributed greatly.”
Netanyahu is facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different graft cases. He denies any wrongdoing and claims that the charges are part of a witch hunt against him.
Levin then slammed critics he claimed try to stir unwarranted hysteria around his reform using disingenuous descriptions of its contents.
“I want to hear the criticism, personally or in the committee or wherever you want, but the attempts to intimidate and paint it in colors that have nothing to do with reality, this way you will have no effect on the change,” he continued.
“I am sure that at the end of the process, we will come out with a fundamental change that has been warranted for years, which will bring to the State of Israel balance between the branches of government, democracy as it's supposed to be.
Trust in the judicial system, and I have no doubt that we will see the effects of the reform in this chamber as well, people will say that it is good that I did what I did."
Lapid responded to Levin’s remarks with a tirade of his own against the sitting government, which is the most hardline in Israel’s history, and added that he rejects any discussion around the details of the reform proposal, arguing such discussions would give the move legitimacy.
“The policy of this government you have established is always put the most radical person in charge of the issue which he is radical about,” he said.
“The most radical on the Temple Mount is responsible for the Temple Mount. The most radical on the settlements is responsible for the settlements and the most radical on LGBT issues and women, we’ll put him in charge of education.
And you are the most radical in the legal field, so they put you in charge of the legal issue so that you do exactly what you believe in, and I believe you stand by these things.
"Why after 15 years do you promote a reform all of a sudden when it is backed by a prime minister with three serious indictments against him and minister Aryeh Deri, a recidivist? You want us to discuss the details to give the reform legitimacy. We won't do that. Why? The answer is three indictments and minister Deri's cases."
Meanwhile, former prime minister Naftali Bennett on Monday slammed the reform proposal as "dangerous."
"I believe that certain changes are required in the judicial system, which for years assumed excessive powers and blocked any attempt at correction, but you do not correct one historical distortion with another distortion," he said.
"The full current proposal, as it currently stands, is dangerous. It will damage the foundations of the State of Israel, its economy and its citizens.
We must not go to the opposite extreme, that is, the loss of checks and balances, neutering the judicial system and transferring the appointment of all Israeli judges to the prime minister alone, as is proposed. There is no escape: the two sides must talk immediately."
Netanyahu and Levin's Likud party said in response "we are just implementing Bennett's legacy", referring to the platform of Bennett's New Right party ahead of the 2019 election which featured even more far-reaching changes to the judiciary than Levin's proposal.