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May 27, 2024

Israel’s High Court Strikes Down Part of Netanyahu’s Judicial Overhaul, Causing Government Crisis

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Jan 4, 2024

Israel’s Supreme Court has struck down a key component of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul, causing a political crisis as Netanyahu vows to find a way to reinstate the overturned legislation. The ruling comes as Netanyahu’s governing coalition, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, has pushed for reforms aimed at curbing the powers of the judiciary.

Supreme Court Overturns Law Allowing Parliament to Override Court Decisions

In a 9-0 decision on Sunday, Israel’s Supreme Court overturned legislation that would have empowered Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority vote. This controversial “override clause” was seen as a centerpiece of the judicial overhaul drive by Netanyahu’s allies.

The court said this law would “subvert the checks and balances relationship between the Knesset and the court.” Its removal represents a major setback for Netanyahu, delivering a resounding rejection of key parts of his coalition’s judicial agenda.

“The override clause would have upended Israel’s system of checks and balances by allowing politicians an extraordinarily free hand in subverting the rule of law,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank.

Political Crisis as Netanyahu Vows to Reinstate Struck Down Law

In the wake of the court’s decision, Netanyahu’s far-right parliamentary partners have called for immediate legislative action to reinstate a version of the override clause.

“The war is not over,” Netanyahu declared on social media. “We will fix it using the tools of democracy.”

The next steps remain unclear, though options include restoring a version of the law or passing other legislation to curb Court powers. Some senior members of Netanyahu’s Likud party have even raised the possibility of launching formal impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court justices who voted to strike down the law.

Any attempts to immediately reignite the judicial overhaul bid could set up a major clash with the judiciary and plunge Israel deeper into political crisis at a sensitive time amid conflict with Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Critics have accused Netanyahu and his allies of a dangerous attempt to undermine democratic checks and balances and seek control over a relatively independent judiciary. The Supreme Court’s ruling has been praised by Netanyahu opponents as vital for protecting Israel’s democratic institutions.

What the Struck Down Law Entailed

The overridden law, known as Section 7B of the Basic Law on Legislation, would have authorized the governing parliamentary majority to re-legislate any law that the Supreme Court strikes down – even if there are significant constitutional issues – so long as the legislation “serves a worthy public purpose.”

This raised concerns that parliamentary majorities, including the current one led by Netanyahu, could circumvent Supreme Court rulings they did not like through the use of this vague override authority.

In Sunday’s ruling, the Court said this law would improperly give politicians wide latitude to act “unreasonably” and was therefore unconstitutional. The unanimous 9-0 ruling was a powerful rebuke from across the judicial spectrum.

“The vague phrasing of the law and the unlimited legislative permission it grants allow for sweeping violations of constitutional human rights in Israel,” the court wrote in its decision.

Supporting Quotes and Reactions

Coalition MP Simcha Rothman: “The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Citizenship Law and the Recusal Law crosses a red line that cannot be ignored…The Supreme Court is declaring war on the Knesset.”

Opposition leader and former Premier Yair Lapid: “The Supreme Court blocked a law that was intended to destroy it. The override law would turn Israel from a democracy to a dictatorship.”

Israeli legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich: “The Court now clearly revealed itself as a partisan institution protecting its power and privileges above all else. The thin veil of apolitical neutrality has been discarded.”

International Crisis Group analyst Neri Zilber: “Netanyahu has a crisis on his hands. He is being forced to fight on three fronts simultaneously with no obvious escape route: political, military and constitutional… Netanyahu looks completely cornered and at the mercy of events and dynamics beyond his control.”

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben Barak: “Removing this threat from Israeli democracy is a national holiday for all those who care about living in a proper country.”

Background and Lead Up

Netanyahu presides over one of the most conservative governing coalitions in Israel’s history. Key partners like Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich have long advocated for aggressive judicial reforms aimed at reducing Court influence over major national policy issues.

The passage of the override legislation last month came after years of attacks by Netanyahu and his allies alleging Supreme Court overreach into political matters best left to democratically elected officials. It also followed the unusual step of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a key Netanyahu ally, refusing to defend the challenged law before the Court.

“The fact that the current government itself doesn’t believe its own law is constitutional is the best evidence of how cynical and dangerous this legislation was,” said Amir Fuchs, senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.

This ruling will likely have immense implications for the viability of Netanyahu’s current coalition. It could galvanize supporters seeking stronger judicial oversight, while angering elements of Netanyahu’s base who demand reduced Court powers and tougher policies toward Palestinians.

What Happens Next?

In the wake of Sunday’s court ruling, Netanyahu will face immense pressure from far-right coalition allies to quickly reinstate some form of the override legislation. However, passing similar judicial reform laws risks sparking a major institutional crisis and could motivate legal challenges arguing that politicians are subverting Court authority.

“Netanyahu hoped judicial overhaul would help pave his path to some form of immunity or presidential pardon” from his ongoing corruption trial, said Shalom Lipner, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. “Instead, overhaul efforts have made his legal woes even worse.”

Any turmoil also complicates efforts to secure another Gaza truce and manage simmering West Bank tensions amid one of the bloodiest months in years. It further distracts from advancing budget legislation and economic reforms promised by Netanyahu’s government.

“Instead of dealing with the economy, security and welfare of Israel’s citizens, Netanyahu is dealing with politics and his own personal needs,” said Tel Aviv University law professor Ariel Bendor. “It is very worrying and even irresponsible.”

With critics accusing him of attacking democratic norms and allies demanding he take action against the Court’s ruling, navigating a path forward represents a perilous high-wire act for Netanyahu that could define the weeks and months ahead.

Possible Parliamentary Actions in Response to Ruling

Action Description Feasibility
Reinstate revamped override clause Pass adjusted version of Section 7B, maybe with more specific override criteria Possible but risky, likely to provoke Court and critics
Launch impeachment proceedings Initiate process to remove/replace Justices who struck down law Very divisive but could appease base
Pass alternative judicial reforms Limit judicial review powers or implement Smotrich’s “French law” idea Less drastic so more feasible but still controversial
Curb Court jurisdiction over Palestinians Strip Court authority on some Palestinian legal issues Could get majority support from current coalition
Implement ministerial override authority Give ministers some power to override specific lower court decisions in their area Less far-reaching so may be more achievable

With the Supreme Court flexing its independence, the potential responses listed above illustrate the range of options, from relatively incremental to extremely provocative, that Netanyahu and allies might pursue in attempting to reinstate some version of the overturned judicial overhaul legislation.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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