Orthodox politicians to Netanyahu: Promise us Knesset law to overturn Supreme Court decisions

Angered by Monday’s court decision to recognize Israeli Reform and Conservative conversions, they say Knesset’s ability to overturn a Supreme Court ruling is now a deal-breaker.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties in Israel threatened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they would not join a future coalition with Likud unless he promised to enact an override clause limiting the Supreme Court’s powers in the next Knesset, Kan News reported Monday.

Aryeh Deri of Shas and Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism (UTJ) were angered by Monday’s Supreme Court ruling that non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel should be recognized for citizenship purposes.

Although the ruling would not affect the Chief Rabbinate’s power over lifecycle events such as marriage, divorce or burial, which is based on Orthodox religious criteria, the idea that Reform or Conservative conversions could be deemed “kosher” even on a civil basis is anathema to the rabbinical councils that run the haredi parties.

A clause allowing the Knesset to overrule court decisions has thus become a priority for those who would be vital to any Likud-led coalition.

Ironically, Shas and UTJ came out against just such a proposal presented last August by Member of Knesset Ayelet Shaked of the Yemina party, who said it was “a chance to stop judicial piracy.”

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Shaked was the one who first proposed the override clause in 2014, when she was an MK of the Jewish Home party, in reaction to the court declaring that a law passed to send illegal migrants to detention centers was unconstitutional. Although approved by the government at the time, it was never brought to the Knesset.

She tried once again in 2018 as minister of justice, but the Kulanu faction in the coalition objected. A possible compromise wherein a super-majority of 70-75 lawmakers would be necessary to reenact statutes declared void by the court instead of a simple majority of 61 went nowhere.

Most right-wing politicians and activists feel that the court is overreaching its authority and breaching the principle of separation of powers when it interferes in the working of the Knesset. They say that it is undemocratic to have an unelected judiciary strike down laws passed by the representatives of the people.

The counter-argument made by the Left is that the courts act as a dispassionate and critical check on the power of the legislature, which could pass undemocratic laws by virtue of the government’s automatic majority in the plenum.