Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin NetanyahuINN

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an address to the nation this evening (Thursday) on the government's planned judicial reforms. The address follows Netanyahu's meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who called for the judicial reform bills to be frozen until the next Knesset session.

"Citizens of Israel, a few months ago, as soon as the election results were announced, I said, 'I intend to be the prime minister of all the citizens of Israel,' I meant it then and I mean it today," Netanyahu said at the beginning of his speech. "We have one country and we must do everything to protect it from external threats and from an irreconcilable rift from within. We cannot allow any dispute, no matter how acute, to endanger our shared future."

"The opponents of the reform are not traitors and the supporters of the reform are not fascists. Most of the citizens of Israel love our country and want to preserve our democracy. But since there are those who appropriate democracy for themselves, I want to say a few words about democracy: the supporters of the reform think that there is no democracy here. What is real and what endangers democracy is an all-powerful court. On the other hand, the opponents of the reform think that what will endanger democracy is a Knesset and a government that will act without restraints and without brakes, that will endanger the rights of the individual," he said.

The Prime Minister made it clear that he does not intend to freeze the judicial reform legislation and that the changes to the judicial selection committee could be passed as early as next week. He also declared that after the passage of the law preventing the attorney general and Supreme Court from declaring a prime minister unfit, he is free to involve himself in the efforts to hold negotiations over the judicial reforms. Netanyahu had been forbidden from involving himself by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara over an alleged conflict on interest related to his corruption trial.

"Until today my hands were tied. But no more. Today I enter the conversation, for the sake of the people and the country, I will do everything in my power to reach a solution and calm the spirits in the nation. We are all brothers,'' he said.

"A proper democratic regime must deal with these two issues - with the rule of the majority and the protection of the rights of the individual. To ensure this and prevent a rift in the nation, the legal reform must address these two basic needs. In order to prevent a rift in the nation - each side must take seriously the claims and concerns of the other side," the Prime Minister explained.

"The supporters of the reform are outraged that the balance between the branches of government has been violated over the past few decades. The court unjustifiably interfered with security considerations in the fight against terrorism, raising difficulties for the government in making policy. For example, it prevented the removal of infiltrators from Israel and you know what that did to the residents of southern Tel Aviv. It interfered in the gas plan and for years delayed the extraction of the gas from the water, costing us billions of shekels, without the authority to do so. It prevented laws and delayed appointments that should not have been discussed at all.

Netanyahu also said that "there is one more claim, perhaps the most painful. Many in the nation agree that the Supreme Court is run as a closed club for the appointment of judges in a friend brings friend system. The judges have a veto in the existing system on the appointment of judges and in practice appoint themselves, which does not happen in any other democracy In the world. Quite a few people who do not define themselves as supporters of the reform think that various amendments should be made in this matter and a real reform should be made. But there are some of them who fear that the proposed reform will go too far and allow the government and the Knesset to take over the court and overcome every paragraph and enact every law. They are afraid of an illiberal halachic state which will pass laws against women and LGBT people."

"In light of these concerns, I say tonight - I believe that it is possible to pass a reform that will provide an answer to both sides, that will restore the proper balance between the branches of government and, beyond that, that will preserve the individual rights of every citizen in the country. We did not come to run over and trample. We came to balance and correct. We are determined to responsibly amend the democratic reforms that will restore the balance between the branches.

"The best way to achieve a balanced reform and prevent a rift in the nation is through dialogue and achieving as broad an agreement as possible. Unfortunately, until now the representatives of the opposition have refused to enter this discussion. Almost three months have been wasted because of this refusal. I hope that will change in the coming days," he said.