Pres. Herzog with local council heads
Pres. Herzog with local council headsHaim Tzach/GPO

Around 100 mayors and heads of local councils answered the call of President Isaac Herzog on Monday and met at the Presidential Residence, in order to promote an outline for negotiations regarding the government's proposed judicial reforms.

"In the special prayer said this morning for the Fast day, I noticed the words, 'because we are in great trouble,'" Herzog said at the meeting. "It is also written that we are a 'stiff-necked people.' I think that these two aspects - the great trouble we are in, and our stubborn nature - are now combining to create one of the greatest challenges the State of Israel has ever faced. We are in crisis, one that threatens to destroy us from within.

"It seems like a paradox, doesn't it? No missiles, no bunkers, no air-raid sirens. But we all know deep down that this is a moment of supreme national danger. Never before have we experienced such behavior, seen such actions taken by broad swathes of the population. I think you all agree with me that the army should be kept totally out of all this. The army must not be dragged into the debate. The IDF is the army of us all and it is vitally important for our protection," the president stressed.

"You, the heads of local authorities, can see first-hand the terrible damage being caused," Herzog continued. "I am referring to a dramatic increase in requests for mental health treatment, and I have already received a report from the Aran association that a quarter of the inquiries are related to the crisis and its consequences.

"We also know that the consequences of the crisis are likely to have a huge economic impact," the president claimed. "They have not been felt yet, but will likely be felt in the next few quarters - and then what will happen? We'll see budget cuts, followed by more applications for unemployment benefit. Companies will start withdrawing their investments and may even entirely divest their funds. This could have enormous and profound consequences that we cannot even begin to estimate.

"The main thing that worries me is that we are now approaching our 75th Independence Day, a day that should be full of rejoicing, but instead, this year, we find ourselves divided, with violence and non-stop protests and potentially even a total paralysis of the state," Herzog added.

"The reforms as they currently stand endanger the democratic foundations of the State of Israel," he continued. "I have already said that it is absolutely legitimate to discuss reforming the judicial system, and that there are aspects of the reforms that are indeed advisable. What I can tell you is that in the last few weeks I have done everything in my power to bring about discussion and enable the sides to reach an agreement.

"I maintain that in the current position, we are closer than ever to the possibility of an agreed outline. There are agreements behind the scenes on most things. They make sense and they are reasonable. On the other hand, it depends on our national leadership, the leaders of both the coalition and the opposition, on whether they will succeed in rising to the magnitude of the moment in recognition of the terrible alternative that is lurking - on whether they will put the country and its citizens above everything else.

"The outline that I am working to formulate provides answers to those on both sides of the debate. It lays down important and historical constitutional foundations, and anchors a healthy balance between the branches of government. It preserves democracy and human rights as well as the independence of the judicial system. It also protects minorities and will preserve the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence.

"We are now at the eleventh hour, and I am appealing to you, the heads of local authorities, to help, as you wield immense power! Go out and appeal to everyone who is involved in the process and to everyone with influence, use all your connections and influence to help bring this crisis to a solution.

"I have already stated and clarified that I have certain tools at my disposal and there are more things that I can do and will do, if necessary. But at this point, there is still a possibility of reaching an agreed outline, an outline that can satisfy everyone and safeguard the country. Because we are sisters and brothers, I am mobilizing you and asking you to join me in this initiative and to use all the tools at your disposal to ensure that we reach an agreed settlement. Thank you very much."