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Interview With Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Aired 1- 1:30p ET
Aired March 27, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Here's what's coming up.
Israel grinds to a halt to stop what people are calling Prime Minister Netanyahu's controversial judicial coup. The Former Foreign Minister Tzipi
Livni joins me live from there.
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Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
A stunning display of resistance in Israel may have stopped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to weaken the judiciary, at least for now. In
the face of massive protests and strikes, Netanyahu's coalition partner says the proposal is tabled for the moment, but it will be brought up as
soon as perhaps a month from now. Whether that will be enough to calm the outcry is yet to be seen critics, both inside Israel and abroad, say the
Israeli leader is making a troublesome slide towards autocracy.
So, let's go straight to head to Hadas Gold in Jerusalem, our correspondent on the ground there. Hadas, tell me about the actual state of play on the
ground as you've been reporting all day.
HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has been an incredible 24-48 hours here because while there have been protests ongoing for more
than 12 weeks of hundreds of thousands of Israelis taking to the streets in protest of this massive judicial overhaul, the last few hours has seen a
shift to, sort of, a new escalation. This is because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister for daring to speak out
against these reforms. He called for a halt -- the defense minister was fired on Sunday evening, that sparked new protests overnight, that I have
to say, Christiane, we're angrier than the ones I've seen before.
And then today, a historic moment. At the largest general strike in Israeli history, Christiane, everything from the airport, to the ports, nurses,
shops, even McDonald's went on strike in Israel as a result of this judicial overhaul, as a result of protesting against the defense minister
firing. That led to more protesters into the streets in Jerusalem.
But what's also different today is that the right wingers, the people who are in favor of these reforms, people who are supporting Netanyahu are now
coming out to the streets as well as a counter process. They're heeding the call of Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister himself, a far-
right wing finger. They're coming out into the streets. And there is a lot of fear that there will be clashes between protesters. That this bloodshed
that the Israeli president had warned about several weeks ago will come to pass as these protesters face off against one another in the streets in
AMANPOUR: Hadas, that is indeed a dramatic escalation of getting two sides to face off, if that indeed happens. We're going to keep watching it, as
will you. Thank you very much.
So, let us turn now to the former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, she's in Tel Aviv. She says, of course, like many of the critics that this is a
struggle, really, for the soul of Israel. And Hadas said, so many people going on strike, including Tzipi Livni. Many diplomatic outposts around the
world. Are you surprised by the level of anger and the unity of purpose, certainly by the workers?
TZIPI LIVNI, FORMER ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: It is touching. It is moving. I mean, for 12 weeks, we took the streets rallies, demonstrating.
But yesterday, something changed. And the fact that Netanyahu decided to fire minister of defense created such rage and understanding that this
cannot continue like this. And lots and lots of people just took the street during the night.
And Netanyahu understood that he cannot continue. Although on Thursday, he said that he will continue, but hopefully today he will stay that he is
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, what if he says that and that it's just a pause? What is the best-case scenario that you can see from where you sit
LIVNI: The best-case scenario is that Netanyahu will announce that he is stopping everything because it's not just one bill. It's a group of
different legislations and bill taking care of him personally, his family, his political partners, exemption for the orthodox of serving in the army
against equality. So, it's not just one bill, and there is a need to stop everything. Because apparently in the last 12 years, we discovered that
these are not just judicial reforms. It's about what is the nature of Israel. Is Israel will remain the Jewish democratic state or non-democratic
-- I don't know, whether dictatorship or more religious country.
It's really about the soul and it's about it's about the nature and the identity of our country. And this is why it is so encouraging to see a new
camp that was born believing in the declaration of independence. Fighting for it. Believing in democracy. It's good news.
AMANPOUR: And why do you think, for this coalition that you've just described on the streets, why do you think it was the firing of the
minister of defense? What is so important? What was so dramatic about that?
LIVNI: I think that until yesterday, there was a debate whether the judicial reform our debt, dramatically changing the nature of Israel as we
believe, or there are those that, in a way, supported the -- all that (ph), that OK, we are -- I mean, the camp that demonstrated is exaggerating. By
the idea of a prime minister firing his minister of -- our minister of defense just because he made a statement saying that this is -- that the
reforms affecting the army, affecting the Israel security. He told it to the prime minister discreetly at first, but he said it publicly. So, it's
more like a dictatorship that the leader is firing somebody, just for speaking up.
AMANPOUR: And we see --
LIVNI: Especially when this is something it's the responsibility of the defense minister to say to the public.
AMANPOUR: And of course, we've seen so much of that in other countries that would be considered autocratic, firing those who stand against --
LIVNI: Oh, yes.
AMANPOUR: -- their leader. So --
LIVNI: Exactly, exactly.
AMANPOUR: So, you just heard Hadas and you've probably heard obviously, yourself, the more -- well, the very far-right and religious leaders
issuing public calls to come to the streets. You heard your own president a few weeks ago, worry publicly about the fabric of society being torn apart,
disruption, you know. Some have even used the word internal civil war. What worries you now about Ben-Givr and Smotrich and the others, these very far
right people calling on their supporters?
LIVNI: First, I hope that this evening will pass without casualties. I called Netanyahu earlier today. I told him, listen, you know that you are
going to stop it. Why to wait until we have demonstration. Both sides demonstrating in the same place. I hope that will pass this evening without
But I don't want to undermine, the situation or underestimate what we are facing. There's a huge debate in Israel that was underneath the surface
until now. Whether the meaning of a Jewish state is religious country or just for my people who would stay national perspective, something that I
believe in. What does it mean democracy?
AMANPOUR: Tzipi. Tzipi.
LIVNI: Is it just --
AMANPOUR: Netanyahu is about to speak, we'll be back with you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Citizens of Israel, 2,000 years ago, here in Jerusalem, Solomon trial happened. Two
women came in front of King Solomon and each one of them claimed that she's the true mother and a real mother of one child. King Solomon asked to cut
the child into two.
One woman was ready to cut the baby, but the second woman refused and she wanted the baby to stay alive. Even today, the two sides on the political
debate, they claimed that they love the child and the country. I'm aware of the tension between the two blocks. I'm listening to the will of the
people. But it's one thing that I am not ready to accept, there's a minority that is ready to tear our country apart. They're threatening with
civil war and to refuse to perform, which is a crime. The state of Israel cannot continue without -- with people who refused to serve in the army.
Refusing, it's the end of our country. And this is why I'm demanding, demanding from the military and the security to put an end to refusal to
serve in the army. To stop it. The people who are calling for other people to refuse to serve into violence. Most of the people, most of the citizens
of Israel from the both sides, they don't want to cut the country and tear it apart. I'm not ready to tear the country apart.
I called time after time to speak and to debate in order to reach a solution. And I remember that we are not facing enemies. We are facing
brothers. I'm saying here and now, we should not have a brother -- a fight between brothers. We need to have a society that is united. We need the
basic unity between us and it involves all of us.
Yesterday, I read the letter of Mr.. Benny Gantz, to talk about and to debate about the various subjects. I am ready and I'm coming towards it,
after I received the proof of a lot (ph) of my friends and colleagues. I, as Prime Minister, I'm taking the time in order to talk and to debate to
give a real chance for a real debate. We stress that we need to change the legislative system and the judicial system.
And out of responsibility to the nation, this is why I decided to delay the second and the third call for the bill in the Knesset in order to give time
to discuss in order for the next session of the Knesset. In order to bring back the balance between the authorities.
I'm talking now to the national block. We're getting a lot of support from a lot, most of them came to Jerusalem in order to support. There's a need
for reform, they claim. I am very proud of you. You are not citizens of second class. You came out into the streets today to demonstrate in the
capital in order to do -- in order for everybody to hear a voice in a democratic way.
I want to say something else spontaneously. Not finance. It was spontaneous, from the bottom of your heart and your soul. I'm asking from
you one thing, just be responsible and do not provoke. Our way is the right one. And everybody in the public. They recognized the need for a reform.
And in order not to take away from the people the right to choose, but we'll try. We'll try to obtain an agreement from everybody.
While living in generation in times of horizon (ph). We have a unique opportunity to build again our country and our nation. Very soon we'll be
possible and all of us -- and celebrate together at the same table. We should celebrate our independence together and we should say things
together. To all the security forces who do not forget for one second that they need to defend everybody, all of us have to same destiny and the same
purpose. And the purpose is to secure the eternity of the state of Israel. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR: You've just been listening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu there, speaking on his controversial plans to
reform Israel's judiciary. Now, Mr.. Netanyahu claimed that it was a small minority ready to tear the country apart. He went on to say that, you know,
despite the fact that Israel has seen three months of protests, including the largest general strike in Israeli history, Mr. Netanyahu is adamant
that he is going to push ahead with these reforms, although he is going to delay them.
Now, I want to bring in our Hadas Gold who joins us now live on this story, as well as our Nic Robertson. Hadas, good to have you with us. So,
obviously Mr. Netanyahu wants to, essentially, increase his power weaken the judiciary. And he has said today that he's not going to shelve this
legislation, he's going to suspended it and wait for more debate. What stood out to you?
GOLD: Well, I think what stood out to me is him, essentially comparing, it sounds like himself to King Solomon, he -- that's how he opened the speech.
Talking about the story of King Solomon where two women came before him, claiming a baby as their own, and one being willing to sacrifice it if it's
to be cut in half, and one saying that the baby should not be cut in half and willing to give it up, essentially.
And he didn't make the direct comparison to him, as perhaps the mother who was willing to give up the baby so that it wouldn't be cut in half. But you
could kind of deduce that that's the connection that he was trying to make by saying that he is willing to pause this legislation, that he will pause
the next readings of this legislation, which is a -- it's actually several bills put together that make up this overall massive judicial overhaul
until at least the end of next month.
He also talked about how he wants to have the other side come for talks. That's interesting because the other side has said that they do want to
have negotiations over a possible reform, that they want the legislation to be stopped before they have those negotiations.
Because why would they have negotiations if reforms are just plowing ahead? So, now it appears as though that halt has happened. Perhaps also the
opposition now willing to come forward to come sit down with the coalition government and have some sort of compromise on what reforms can be accepted
by all sides.
But I do have to say that the protesters, I don't think they're going to be stopping anytime soon. These protests we've been seeing for more than three
months. They have escalated, especially in the last 24 hours, especially with this massive general strike we had today that not only affected the
airport but also the major ports. It affected universities, affected shops, Lynda, it even affected McDonald's went on strike, as a result of this.
It's the largest strike in Israeli history. It's been incredible to see.
What was also notable from the speech is what we didn't hear about the defense minister, who he fired on Sunday evening for giving his own speech
asking for these reforms to be halted in -- for national security's sake. I didn't -- perhaps I missed it, but I didn't hear him say that the defense
minister would be coming back into his role or who the new defense minister will be. Instead, what we actually heard from the minister of national
security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was actually the first one to announce that the legislation would be halted was the announcement that a new national
guard unit would be formed under his administration.
So, that sounds like a brand new, potentially security unit to be under this far-right wing minister, who, I should note, he, himself, before has
been charged with incitement to violence and supporting Jewish terrorism. Lynda.
KINKADE: Yes. You raise some really good points there Hadas. And I just want to let our viewers to -- this vision coming into us live right now, on
the streets of Jerusalem, protesters, they're still out in force. They don't seem to be going anywhere right now.
And I want to ask you more about that, Nic, because you flew in to Israel. Obviously, we have seen his major strikes, the biggest strikes in Israeli
history, impacting transportation, universities, shops. We are expecting to see more protests tomorrow involving healthcare workers, including nurses.
Do you think this momentum will continue despite the fact that the prime minister has said that he will delay this legislation and wait for debate?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN'S INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The core issue hasn't gone away. It's been delayed. So, the debate has a little longer to
play out. But I certainly feel that all the protesters who've been coming out that opposed the judicial reforms also feel, as Hadas laid out there,
that if Itamar Ben-Gvir is forming a national guard of sorts under his command, that's going to stoke fears about what sort of deal the prime
ministers had to make to get within his own hardline cabinet. To get the compromise to delay decisions on judicial reform. And we don't know the
details of precisely what would be put before the Knesset in its next session.
So, we don't know what will be voted on. So, we don't know and the protesters won't know what to expect. So, I think there's going to be that
real concern that until those sorts of things become clear, that until those sorts of things become clear then those concerns are going to stay.
And I think what we also heard from the prime minister was really speaking to the crowd here, as you can hear behind me, that for the first time
government officials have called on pro-government supporters to come out on the streets. And those are the people that are gathered here.
And what the prime minister said to them quite explicitly was, you're having your chance to be heard. This is what we're hearing right now.
You're having your chance to be heard, you are not second-class citizens, he said to them. But he said also that he appealed for people not to turn
to violence. To be responsible not to provoke. He said that was the right part. And this is something that we've heard from Prime Minister Netanyahu,
urging people away from getting into -- from the potential of clashes.
But that is also one of the big things about today. Pro-government supporters coming out on the streets because they want to be heard and they
want to make sure that their views and these judicial changes happen and that is also obviously going to play in to the current situation. Both
sides want to be heard. This is what the crowd saying here. They're saying they want reform now. These voices are not going away. The detail the
government just hasn't laid out. It's just delayed discussion.
KINKADE: Yes, exactly. We'll come back to you in just a moment, Nic. But I do want to ask you, Hadas, about just how much support Netanyahu has, I
mean, as Nic was pointing out. There are people within his government that are calling for pro-government supporters to come out and protest. You've
been amongst these protesters, day in, day out. The prime minister says, this is a minority that wants to tear the country apart. Just how much
support does Netanyahu have right now?
GOLD: Well, I mean, recent polling done by the Israel Democracy Institute has found that a majority of people, not a slim majority, a helping
majority of people do not want the reforms as they have been originally written. The idea that the parliament could overturn a Supreme Court
decision with a simple majority, or the idea that the government could have as much of a say, as the government had proposed over the judges and how
they are selected.
And when you just look at the types of people who have come out against this reform, or at least have called for a halt to the reform, these are
senior figures, not only former government officials but also former heads of the Israeli military, former heads of the Massad, the current governor
of the Bank of Israel called for a pause. Senior members of the, normally, a political high-tech sector, that's usually the pride, especially on
Benjamin Netanyahu often talks about the startup nation. They have come out against this.
And seeing the labor union today called the most massive general strike that we have ever seen. Keep in mind that members of the labor unions
board, they are part of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud right wing party, and they agreed and called for the strict. I think when you look at those
numbers, you can see that there is quite a significant group of people in Israeli society who are against these reforms. And then not to even mention
the international pressure from the Americans, from the Germans, from others who have expressed concern about how these reforms are being pushed
through that they want compromises to at least be reached.
But we do -- you know, there is a call for reform. There is a sector of the Israeli society who, especially, just support much of what Benjamin
Netanyahu does. But they do also want to reform. They feel as though the Supreme Court has been meddling in issues that they shouldn't be meddling
in. And that the voice of the people who voted the politicians into power should have more of a say. Because keep in mind, Israel has no written
constitution. So, there's -- it's not really sometimes clear, sort of, what the Supreme Court should get in on or what they shouldn't.
But while there have been calls for reforms in the past, the way that this has been pushed through, that is what's really wrangling people. But I
should note that the protests we're seeing from the right-wing tonight is one of the first times in the past 12 weeks at the right-wing has come out
in force. The supporters of this reforms have finally come out to the streets to express their support for what they see are much-needed reforms
to the judiciary.
KINKADE: Thanks, Hadas.
Now, I want to go back to Nic. Because this new law essentially would make it much harder for the courts to remove a leader deemed unfit for office
and this all comes as Netanyahu remains on trial for corruption, right?
ROBERTSON: It does, and that gets to the root of a lot of the protesters concerns, that their prime minister is consolidating, essentially, more
power because it's harder to remove him and it will be easier for him to resist and perhaps contain and limit some of the charges that he's facing
in the courts here that are ongoing. So, for the prime minister, this is the sort of alleviation from pressure -- from the pressure of those charges
that he wants.
But it's precisely that alleviation that triggers people's fears. That the constant -- that the lack of constitution is being essentially tampered
with to the advantage of this prime minister for gains that he wants that are not overall in the national interest. And that really is what is -- as
Hadas is saying, what we've been hearing coming from the White House, coming from other friends and partners and allies of Israel across the
world, that are saying that you need to keep in place those parts of your democracy and democratic values that allow you to have the adequate checks
and balances that exists in a democracy. Failing that, then you enter a situation where you are judged as being less than democratic.
So, these are the fears that play out. So, if the prime minister gets what he wants, an alleviation from the pressures of being removed from office
that, many would argue, is against the interests of the country. Again, saying that, the protesters here at this location, outside the Supreme
Court tonight, near the Knesset are saying they want their voices heard too. They want those changes that the prime minister is calling for.
KINKADE: Yes, certainly. It doesn't look like there's protesters are going anywhere right now. And Nic Robertson for us and Hadas Gold on this
breaking news story. We will come back to you again soon. We're going to take a quick break. We'll have much more from Israel in just a moment.