As anti-government protests continue, Likud MK David Bitan has come out in favor of making "significant changes" to the government's proposed judicial reform package, telling Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) that the protests cannot be ignored.
"Once all the bills in the reform package have passed in their first Knesset readings, Likud MKs will be sitting down with [Constitution Committee chairman MK Simcha] Rothman to 'soften' the impact of the reforms," Bitan said. "We can see what's going on in the country and it can't be ignored. It's our responsibility to run the country, not the opposition's," he added.
Bitan stressed that the judicial reforms will be modified even if the opposition parties choose not to involve themselves in any discussion on the matter. "If there's no negotiating partner then we ourselves will modify the reforms. The position of the Likud party is that we are going to complete this task."
The veteran Likud MK blamed pressure brought to bear on coalition members for the manner in which the reform package is being advanced, claiming that many of those opposing the judicial reforms are motivated by the way in which the issue is being managed, not necessarily by the content of the reforms themselves. "We wanted to postpone enacting the Override Clause until after the Knesset's [Passover] recess, but the haredim [in the coalition] threatened to cause a coalition crisis due to the Draft Law. In any case, if we want to reform the judiciary, we should be doing it in a different manner entirely, very gradually," Bitan said.
Successive Draft Laws anchoring yeshivah students' exemption from the mandatory IDF draft have been struck down by the Supreme Court which ruled that they did not reflect the fundamental principle of equality. The current situation (according to which most students can obtain a deferral, and ultimately an exemption) expires in a few months' time, after the Supreme Court extended the government's deadline for proposing a new law that will satisfy the Court's requirements. Should the deadline pass without a law the Supreme Court deems satisfactory, in theory all yeshivah students will be subject to the draft.
"At present, the coalition is far from being an 'iron wall' of homogenous opinions," Bitan added. "If Netanyahu takes swift steps without obtaining broad coalition agreement, we'll have a problem on our hands."
Meanwhile, the Override Clause has passed in its first Knesset reading, by a majority of 61 to 52.
Among the Clause's provisions is a stipulation that the Supreme Court may only strike down, alter, or limit the application of a law if at least 12 of the 15 judges on the bench vote in favor of doing so. Another of the Clause's provisions states that in the event that the Supreme Court strikes down a law, the Knesset may reenact it if a majority of at least 61 members of the Knesset vote in favor, and that this reenactment is not subject to judicial review.