Israel’s left-wing in uproar as Netanyahu targets Supreme Court for reform

Reforming Israel’s Supreme Court may be the central struggle of Israel’s next government. 

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Israel’s next government appears set to make far-reaching reforms to Israel’s judicial system, with significant changes being planned for Israel’s Supreme Court. Israel’s political right has criticized the court in recent years for over-reaching, taking powers normally reserved to the other branches of government.

Members of the United Right, a coalition of parties that ran as one list in the recent Knesset elections, put together a document containing 16 proposals for reining in what they see as a runaway Supreme Court under the title “Sovereignty & Justice,” Israel Hayom reports on Monday.

MK Bezalel Smotrich, head of the National Union party, a member of the United Right, met several times with Likud MK Yariv Levin, considered a front-runner for the position of justice minister, to discuss the matter, the paper reports.

It is conjectured that all the suggestions will be passed and perhaps still others not included in the document, Israel Hayom says.

16 proposals

Perhaps the most significant of the 16 proposals is the passing of an “Override Clause.” It would grant the Knesset the power to reverse Supreme Court rulings with a simple majority of 61 votes. Israel’s Supreme Court has been overturning laws passed by Israel’s parliament at an increasing rate in recent years. Those in favor of the law argue that by doing so the high court has essentially usurped power belonging to the legislative branch.

Other proposals include changing the way judges are selected. The Supreme Court’s detractors argue that it’s largely self-selecting in the current setup. A nine-member committee selects judges but the court is more or less guaranteed six of the votes, giving it veto power. Those who call for change say the court naturally chooses like-minded people, preventing the court from representing the diversity of opinion that properly reflects Israeli society.

Another of the suggestions is to change the rules regarding legal standing. Currently, anyone can bring a case before the court whether or not they are an injured party, something that was not always the case in Israel but occurred in the 1980s. The situation is unlike in the U.S., for example, which requires “concrete” injury for standing.

Israel Hayom reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is familiar with the contents of the document but has not yet given it the “green light.”

It appears the prime minister agrees with at least some of them, tweeting on Monday:

“My policy has always been to maintain a strong and independent court — but this does not mean a court that is omnipotent. The media has published purposeful leaks and distorted interpretations that include incorrect proposals. All this is done to sow fear and prevent any changes, with the aim of stopping the necessary balancing between the Israeli branches…”

Opposition reacts

The reports of reforming the Supreme Court coupled with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s tweet led to an uproar among Israel’s opposition members and in parts of Israel’s media.

Most focused on talk of an “Immunity Law” that would protect Israeli parliamentarians from prosecution. Opponents say the prime minister wants the law to protect his own skin as he faces three corruption cases that could lead to an indictment pending a hearing.

Benny Gantz, head of the opposition as leader of the Blue & White party, tweeted on Monday, “We anticipated that Bibi would do everything in his power to build a coalition [that would act as] a legal stronghold, but such contempt for the rule of law is crossing a red line that we will not pass by in silence.”

Echoing an oft-repeated message among Mr. Netanyahu’s opponents, an op-ed in the left-wing Haaretz daily said, “The law to revoke the powers of the High Court of Justice, which is now being discussed in the coalition negotiations, is similar to a tank brigade that makes its way to the capital to take control of the state’s institutions.

“Netanyahu’s assault on the authority of the High Court of Justice will be a mortal blow to democracy, the rule of law, civil rights and, in short, a coup d’état.”

The prime minister and those promoting the legal changes deny these accusations, arguing that they were duly elected by a majority to make such changes.