Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Sunday that his country is in the midst of a division that is tearing it apart.
Tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening to protest plans by the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to overhaul the legal system.
“We are in the grip of a profound division that is tearing our nation apart. This conflict worries me deeply, as it worries many across Israel and the Diaspora,” Herzog said in a statement on Twitter.
“The foundations of Israeli democracy, including the justice system, are sacred and we must strictly safeguard them, even at a time of fundamental arguments and debates about the relationship between the different branches of government,” he added.
The president has come under fire for avoiding clarifying his position on the proposed judicial reforms.
“I respect the criticism towards me, but I am now focused on two critical roles that I believe I bear as president at this hour: averting a historic constitutional crisis and stopping the continued rift within our nation,” Herzog said.
He added that he has been seeking to create “wide-reaching, attentive, and respectful discussion and dialogue” between the relevant parties over the reforms.
Proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the reforms, if enacted, would be the most radical change ever in the system of government in Israel.
The planned changes would severely limit the power of the Supreme Court of Justice, give the government the power to choose judges, and end the appointment of legal advisers to ministries by the attorney general.
On Sunday, Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, defended the controversial judicial reforms, saying he has a mandate from millions of voters to carry out the changes.
Netanyahu’s government was sworn in on Dec. 29 following elections in November which gave his right-wing bloc a simple majority to form a new government.