Aharon Barak in the attack: "Levin’s reform is a string of poison, a tangible danger to democracy"

Retired President of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, broke his silence this evening (Mots"Q) and was interviewed by the main news channels in which he expressed his opposition to the legal reform of Justice Minister Yariv Levin.

He was interviewed on Channel 11 by Tamar Almog and at the beginning of his words he said: "For months upon months, years in fact, I kept silent because I told myself: reason, reasonableness, will overcome the evil that is happening little by little. But this thought is slowly disappearing and therefore I didn’t want to be in a situation where they would ask me: And why were you silent then? And so I can’t keep quiet anymore".

He said about Levin’s reform: "Minister Levin collected all the bad proposals collected over the years and connected them together into some kind of chain that is suffocating Israeli democracy and the result, the product obtained as a result, is the abolition of judicial review in Israel. You have no greater evil than this as a constitutional revolution. The most parallel thing is a revolution of tanks".

He continued: "We don’t talk in theory, we don’t talk in questions about Knesset-government-court. No, it’s not Knesset-Government-Court, we’re talking about you, your rights. Jewish, Arab, ultra-Orthodox, non-Orthodox. The rights of each of you, according to this proposal, are in danger, a great danger. There is no one to protect them".

Regarding Levin’s proposal to cancel the reason for plausibility, he said: "Abolish the cause of reasonableness, there is no reasonableness. So what will happen then? What happens when the judgment of the active minister or official is a distorted judgment? Distortion of authority. It’s OK? Isn’t that too? […] The policeman who gives you a report, the inspector who does actions in your house and all of these, the only way to ensure that they will be within the law is to ensure that there will be a judicial review of them. And the main ground for judicial review is reasonableness. And all this is going to go".

He also said: "The very appearance of Minister Levin the day before the hearing of the Deri case, we will call him, was not true, it constitutes a threat".

Regarding the criticisms against him that claim judicial activism, he said: "I am sorry that you see me as an enemy of the people. I always thought that I was serving this nation, that I was doing everything I could and that the judgments I gave, thousands, are judgments that connect with our history, with our Zionism, with our security. I don’t see myself as an activist by any means, I don’t see myself as a conservative by any means. So I’m sorry that you think I brought this problem. If they thought killing me would stop all this upheaval, then I’m ready to stand before a firing squad".

He also said: "They ask me: Can’t the people, through their representatives in the Knesset, change what they want? My answer is yes, he can change what he wants, but not within the framework of our declaration of independence. We need to make a new declaration of independence in which we are not distracted by the Zionist vision and the vision of human rights for every person, of equality. In all the proposals that are brought and will be brought in the Knesset, they will wait a bit for the second stage, the third stage, there are racist proposals. So let them make a new declaration of independence, yes, it is possible. The people can do anything. No court can protect a people that does not protect itself. And the people have to protect themselves".

Regarding his involvement in the plea deal regarding the Netanyahu files, he said: "I was part of the factors that dealt with this question. I was in favor of a plea deal, I think it was not a mistake, I think the reality as we see it now just proves that it was not a mistake. And finally, I am in favor of a plea deal even this day, this very moment".

In an interview on Channel 12 with Dana Weiss, he also said that he decided to be interviewed because of the moves led by Minister Levin: "What has changed is the plan presented by the Minister of Justice, Member of Knesset Yariv Levin. In a very clear, sharp and acute way, I think there is a clear and tangible danger to Israeli democracy. If these plans come true, we will have a formal democracy, a democracy with no balances. In fact, we will have only one authority – the Prime Minister, because the court will cease to fulfill the normal functions it fulfills in a democratic society. And that is not democracy".

When Weiss asked him about promoting a constitutional revolution at the time, he said: "The court did not make a constitutional revolution. Fundamental law: human dignity and freedom and fundamental law: freedom of occupation, they are the ones who made the constitutional revolution, everyone with a mind should understand this. [….] You don’t have a lie that is stronger than a lie that is repeated many times – it becomes the truth".

When asked if the people did not vote for these reforms in the last election, he answered: "If it weren’t for Meretz’s 4 places, everything would have been the other way around. So the people don’t want this whole revolution, do they? We have a society divided ‘fifty-fifty’, and in a society that is divided 50-50, there should be constitutional changes, I am not in favor of leaving the status quo. I’m in favor of changes, I just want a dialogue about changes – I want as broad agreements as possible, about changes".

About his acquaintance with Rival Levin said: "I have never met Yariv Levin before, we never exchanged a single word. I would be very happy to talk to him. I believe I can convince him and I believe I can convince the Prime Minister".

He expressed his opposition to the superseding paragraph of 61 H"as: "I say that the overcoming clause in 61 means that there is no judicial review. […] Which means to the citizens, that a judgment given by the Supreme Court, which protects the citizen as a citizen, me and you as citizens, any such judgment can be annulled by the same majority that enacted this law. Well, then what is left of human rights? Democracy will remain, but it will be a hollow democracy. It will be a Polish democracy, as now, it will be a Hungarian democracy. It will be a Turkish democracy. It will be. […] To prevent a hollow democracy, it needs to be strengthened from all sides. That is, for someone to come and tell the Knesset – that’s it. True, we do not have a formal constitution, but there are basic laws that the declaration of independence recognized".

When Weiss asked him about Netanyahu’s plea deal, he said: "When we talked about the plea deal, what stood before my eyes was the people. This nation is divided on these issues, it is also divided on the issue of the Prime Minister and we need to seek to bring about the reconciliation of the divisions in the nation and everything I spoke about the plea deal at the time was for the sake of the union of the divisions in the nation. […] What was on the table was that there would be an amendment of the indictment, in the sense that the bribery offense would be removed, the other two charges would remain. […] I think the idea that was at the basis of the plea deal is that he is leaving political life. […] If we had reached a plea deal there would not have been the offer of Levin’s opponent".

When asked about the changes in the Supreme Court and its diversity since his time, he said: "Nice, I congratulate them on that. I am in favor of reforms. I am against bad changes. What is important for me to say is that the people of Israel knew, if this reform from beginning to end goes into effect, all the constitutional and halachic rights we had in the State of Israel as a state until this moment are in danger of extinction. The one who will be harmed first and foremost is each and every individual – their rights, their human dignity, their life, their body, their property, their personal freedom, their movement, their daily life. […] If no agreements are reached, then a struggle must be waged, only within the framework of the law, of course. But if we need another demonstration in Balfour, then there will be demonstrations in Balfour. We have no other country. We have no other country".

In an interview on Channel 13 with Baruch Kara, Barak said: "Levin’s reform is a string of poison, if it is fully implemented it is the beginning of the destruction of the third house […] Levin’s proposal would lead to civil war. […] If the reform goes into effect – the right to dignity, freedom and life of all citizens will be harmed".

About Levin’s timing in presenting his reform he said: "Introducing the reform the day before the Deri hearing is an illegal act, it is a threat to the court".

When asked if this is not the will of the people, he answered: "I want to inform you my dear people, I am the 86-year-old old Jew who knows it well, understands the changes and knows where it will lead – it will not lead to the strengthening of the court, it will lead to the destruction of the court, because they are destroying the separation of powers. There is no separation of powers already today, the separation of powers in Israel is a separation between a prime minister and a court".

He warned that damage to the justice system would harm Israel at the international level: "[בית המשפט העליון הוא] Iron dome of the state [שעומדת מול] It is heavily bombarded by states and non-state entities. […] This iron dome will disappear [בעקבות הרפורמה של לוין]. Lawsuits will be filed before the International Criminal Court and Israel will not be able to come, because they will ask her who the judges are, are these the independent judges you talked about? It’s actually Poland, it’s actually Hungary, there won’t be an iron dome".

Judge Barak said that if the reform goes through in full, the judges will have nothing to look for in the Supreme Court: "If I were a judge today, I would resign in a situation where the reform is going through. […] We follow the path of Poland, Hungary and Turkey and even more extreme".

In his reference to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Barak said: "I think Netanyahu is a very complex person […] Between the national heritage and the personal problem – Netanyahu chooses the personal problem. […] I have great respect for Netanyahu […] I would love to talk to him".

He finished his words: "I am neither a pessimist nor an optimist, I try to be a realist. This realism will be conditional on the response of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and other ministers in the government, and the members of the Knesset to the call from the bottom of my heart to you, please negotiate. That one half of the people will negotiate with the other half of the people. We will make concessions, everyone will give up and we will reach an agreed settlement. Not by coercion, not by force, not by threats, but out of a desire to reach an agreement".

Netanyahu said: "The prime minister never agreed to admit to the crimes of fraud and breach of trust, and if he had agreed to this – a plea deal would have been signed a long time ago and the trial would have ended. Every day that passes in the trial reveals the truth and illustrates why Prime Minister Netanyahu refused to admit to any crimes".

Following the words of retired judge Aharon Barak, Justice Minister Yariv Levin also came to the studios to defend his reform.

In an interview with Dana Weiss on Channel 12, Levin said about Judge Barak: "I have a lot of respect for him, but where has he been all these years? In a series of judgments he ran over different publics and ran over democracy […] I do not accept this method that legislative proceedings take place in conversations in chambers".

Levin said about his reform: "The legislative procedures are done in the Knesset, I want its status to be preserved. I also invite Benny Gantz to come to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee – where serious and in-depth discussions will take place. This is where the rules are discussed. I brought a reform that in my opinion is the right and the best. The decisions will come from the Knesset – and I hope that the final result will be as similar as possible to what I proposed – because I believe it is the right thing".

He responded to Barak’s harsh words and said: "I heard with great sadness the words of Aharon Barak talking about a firing squad and tanks […] Very serious are the perceptions that prevailed in the Supreme Court. The reform is not related to this or that case, the timing is not relevant to this or that event. It is impossible to escape from the serious words of retired President Barak – that it turns out that we do not understand the essence of democracy. My reform does not reach the Knesset on tanks – but on the voter’s ballots".

He denied that the reform had anything to do with Netanyahu’s trial or Deri’s appointment as minister: "It has nothing to do with a particular sentence or a particular person as I said […] I am not dealing with the Netanyahu trial, and the authority to conduct it is not mine. My reform is about restoring democracy. When Netanyahu appointed me Minister of Justice, he knew what my positions were, because they are known and I have been fighting for them for many years. I think he heard a very strong desire first of all from the public to bring about these changes".

In an interview on Channel 13 with Tamar Ish Shalom, Levin said: "The day after the reform, Israel will finally be a democracy like all Western democracies – as it was in its first decades. The court will return to judge, the advisers will return to advise, the elected representatives will deal with legislation and the government will be able to govern. as exists everywhere".

Retired Supreme Court President Aharon Barak
Aharon Barak Photo: Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center
Rival Levin
archives. Photo: Knesset spokeswoman, Noam Moshkovich

Minister of Justice Yariv Levin introduced "Governance reform"

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