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Israel Explodes in Political Protest as Government Passes First Part of Judicial Reforms

Israel_Supreme_Court Jerusalem (Wikipedia)

Israel Supreme Court Jerusalem (Wikipedia)

Israel may be in big trouble after the coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed through the first phase of its judicial reform on Monday. The so-called “reasonableness” amendment to Israel’s basic law on the courts passed in a vote of 64 to 56, with all members of the Knesset voting. All of the coalition members voted in favor and all opposition members against.

A parade of demonstrators exiting Jerusalem’s train station – an end of the line at the entrance of the city – could be seen all day long and at this time a number of arrests have already been made. Police are bracing for trouble as even record heat did not keep people away.

The leader of the opposition in the Knesset Yair Lapid – who leads the Yesh Atd (There is a Future) Party – already promised to take the matter to Israel’s Supreme Court in an attempt to have the new law overturned.

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“As early as tomorrow morning, we will petition the High Court against the unilateral abrogation of the democratic character of the State of Israel and the anti-democratic and predatory nature in which discussions in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee were conducted,” Lapid said.

But this is exactly what the government says is something the courts should not be empowered to do. If the Supreme Court were to intercede in the matter, Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters will simply dismiss it as judicial overreach and another example of why they need to reform Israel’s judicial system.

The law itself may not have been so objectionable to the opposition if it was there was to the judicial reforms. But the passage of this new law came after months of negotiations to find some sort of compromise to the overall judicial reform plan failed and many people see this as just a first step towards ending judicial review in Israel in its entirety.

Basically, the new “reasonableness” clause will place limits on when the courts can intervene and decide on whether a law passed by the Knesset should be allowed to stand. This is even so in cases when an independent group appeals a law based solely on its opposition to the policies the law sets and not whether it in any way violates the rights of Israeli citizens or other laws of government.

The new law will also block the courts from interfering with actions made by government ministers based solely on their own beliefs of what is reckless, unethical, or incompletely considered, and not based on what the law says.

The government’s supporters assert this is necessary because it will “restore” democratic principles to Israel that the government maintains were lost. This, it says, is because the courts have taken on too many powers for themselves that were not enshrined in law, thereby usurping the democratic process and the will of the majority in political matters.

The opposition, however, charges that this would be just the first step in a process to end the system of judicial review in Israel. This, it says, will harm Israel’s democracy by taking away the power of the courts to serve as a check against government powers.

Massive protests have rocked Israel since January, when Justice Minister Yariv Levin revealed the government’s plans to alter the nature of Israel’s judicial system. The government’s judicial reform plan would greatly curtail the power of Israel’s Supreme Court to nullify legislation passed by the Knesset and also limit the authority of Israel’s attorney general. The opposition charges this would harm Israel’s democracy, eroding foreign confidence in the country and hurting its economy. And this is why the country is now on the brink of what some are describing as the biggest societal clash in Israel’s history.



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