Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s controversial judicial reform, against which hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been demonstrating for the past two months, began to be debated this Monday in the plenary session of the Israeli parliament amid a large protest rally in Jerusalem.
Since this afternoon, the Knesset has been debating part of the proposal, which aims to weaken the powers of the Supreme Court and change the system for electing its judges, in the first (of three) readings. The initiative is being promoted by Netanyahu’s Likud coalition of far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties, which has governed since last December. After warning last week that the proposal had brought the country “to the brink of constitutional and social collapse” due to polarization, President Isaac Herzog expressed his conviction this Sunday that the government and opposition can reach an agreement “in the coming days”.
This Monday, however, the tone is different. Former Prime Minister and opposition leader Yair Lapid has accused the government of putting “two laws nullifying democracy” to the vote and a group of MPs waved the national flag at the start of the debate. House Speaker Amir Ohana has expelled several.
Benjamin Netanyahu and his Education Minister Yoav Kish this Monday in the Knesset during the debate on judicial reform POOL (via Portal)
Shortly before, a visibly upset Netanyahu had accused the organizers of the protests, which temporarily paralyzed traffic on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, of “destroying democracy.” “They don’t accept the results of the elections, they don’t accept the decision of the majority,” he insisted, focusing on the allegation that this morning a Conservative MP was prevented from taking her daughter with special needs to school and so on “There is room for dialogue” around the amendment as it follows its parliamentary course. US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides recently pointed out that the Joe Biden administration is asking the PM to “put the brakes on” reform.
In addition, Internal Intelligence (Shin Bet) chief Ronen Bar recently spoke to Justice Minister Yariv Levin, one of the bill’s proponents, to warn him that “the environment is heating up,” with “potential risk of violence.” , according to Israeli television channel KAN 11. This Tuesday he is meeting with Lapid.
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The Knesset is debating two amendments to the Basic Law in particular (Israel has no constitution). The first would change the makeup of the committee that elects Supreme Court justices, which dates back to 1953, five years after the country’s birth. It now consists of three judges, two ministers, two MPs – one of them from the opposition – and two members of the Bar Association. The amendment would leave the committee in practice in the hands of the executive by reassigning the seats in the Bar to a different minister and deputy. In addition, it provides that the Minister of Justice, with the consent of the President of the Supreme Court, will select two of the judges to be retired.
The second amendment would prevent the Supreme Court from revising or striking down those norms it deems contrary to the Basic Law, a prerogative claimed and used in very limited ways a quarter century ago. The court acts as a counterbalance in a country without a constitution, with a highly centralized power structure and a head of state without executive powers. The most controversial amendment – the one that would allow Parliament to overturn a Supreme Court decision by a simple majority – has yet to be tabled in plenary.
The right, which has been the majority in power in Israel since 1977, has long perceived the Supreme Court as a stronghold of Ashkenazi power (Jews from Central and Eastern Europe who are generally disdainfully associated with the elite and the left ), which slows down the expressed will of the population in the elections. Now the most right-wing executive branch in the country’s history has rushed to laminate its powers and change its composition. The opposition suspects the onslaught is linked to Netanyahu’s three corruption charges, whose cases could just end up in the Supreme Court if he is convicted and appeals.
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