Israel’s High Court of Justice appears set to strike down a key component of the government’s judicial reform plan, according to leaked drafts of the court’s ruling obtained by Israeli media outlets. The court’s reported move comes amid intense political debate over the legality and wisdom of the reform package advanced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition government.
Reasonableness Clause at Center of Dispute
The court is reportedly preparing to invalidate the so-called “reasonableness clause” inserted into the Basic Law on Legislation as part of the reform package approved by the Knesset over the summer. This clause empowers the parliament to override High Court decisions to strike down laws with a simple majority vote.
Critics have decried this override power as a dangerous politicization of Israel’s judiciary that upends the checks and balances between branches of government. However, supporters argue it is a necessary and reasonable measure to curb what they see as overreach from unelected justices dictating policy.
Leaked Ruling Raises Alarms
The fact that draft versions of the High Court’s ruling have leaked out before being officially published is itself controversial. Justice Minister Yariv Levin called the leaks “scandalous” and said issuing such an inflammatory decision amid Israel’s latest flare-up in Gaza could “set the country ablaze.”
However, other politicians welcomed the reports that the court appears poised to prevent the judicial overhaul. Opposition leader Yair Lapid said the ruling would “save Israeli democracy from the corrupt hands” trying to undermine it.
The leaks set off alarms within Netanyahu’s right-wing Yamina party as well. “I hope the justices have not made such a disastrous decision,” said Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. “The High Court is not authorized to deny the political majority the ability to govern.”
Renewed Calls for Restraint
As tensions escalated, there were renewed calls for restraint and national unity from all sides.
Israel’s figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, warned that “we must not let the dangerous genie of division out of the bottle.” He said resolving debates over governance via dialogue is essential for Israel’s future.
Meanwhile, sources within Netanyahu’s Likud party indicated that though they fundamentally oppose the court invalidating laws passed by elected officials, the government does not plan to actively fight the High Court’s ruling at the present moment while conflict is ongoing in Gaza.
“Now is the time for national healing, not internal rifts,” Likud MK Miki Zohar said. “When there is quiet on the security front, we will revisit this ruling.”
High Court Remains Divided
The leaked draft ruling indicates a narrow 8-7 decision within the 15-member High Court bench to strike down the reasonableness clause. This reflects lingering dissent among justices about the legitimacy of intervening to invalidate amendments to Basic Laws.
In the draft, the justices in favor of voiding the reform law wrote that it “outstrips the bounds of the democracy’s capacity to contain conflict” and enables the “tyranny of the majority” over minority rights. They argue the court must safeguard the constitutional division of authority between branches.
Meanwhile, the dissenting justices contend that the court itself risks overstepping boundaries on judicial review powers not explicitly granted under Israeli law. They emphasize deference to elected legislators.
What Comes Next?
Assuming the High Court moves ahead with nullifying the reasonableness clause despite criticism, some experts say the reform package remains salvageable without that specific provision. The laws also expand politicians’ influence over judicial appointments and limit the court’s standing in some cases.
However, a sweeping ruling against a key plank of the reform laws could anger right-wing lawmakers who may then seek new legislation to curb High Court powers or otherwise restructure the judiciary. This risks igniting a full-blown Israeli constitutional crisis.
On the other hand, some believe the government will ultimately have to cave and negotiate a compromise on judicial oversight acceptable to Netanyahu’s diverse governing coalition. Yamina leaders like Shaked insist they remain committed to reforming the Supreme Court through legitimate means.
Table: Timeline of Key Events in Israel’s Judicial Reform Saga
|Netanyahu forms new right-wing government
|Signals intent to advance controversial judicial reform agenda
|Reasonableness clause passed by Knesset
|Enables parliament to override High Court rejection of laws
|Reform laws accelerated after Netanyahu election win
|Fast-tracking prompts backlash from judiciary, opponents
|Initial reform bills introduced under previous government
|Purpose was to reduce perceived overreach of judicial activism
Thus, Israel remains locked in an anxious waiting game to see how the High Court’s apparent rejection of a centerpiece of the Netanyahu government’s reform plan plays out. Despite proving deeply polarizing and inflaming political tensions, the proposals emerged from a longstanding and substantive debate over strengthening democratic accountability versus upholding checks on parliamentary power.
Navigating a wise path forward upholding both principles, without descending into constitutional breakdown or rule-by-decree, will demand good faith efforts towards compromise from across Israel’s fractured body politic.
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