Thousands protest judicial overhaul ahead of precedent-setting Supreme Court hearing

Supreme Court holds crucial hearing on judicial reform plan, with thousands of anti-government demonstrators rallying in favor of overturning amendment to country’s Basic Law.

By The Associated Press and World Israel News Staff

Israel’s Supreme Court convened for an unprecedented hearing Tuesday morning, listening to arguments for the overturning of an amendment to one of the country’s Basic Laws.

Thousands of Israeli protesters flooded the streets outside Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Monday, a day before the hearing, calling on the court to strike down legislation passed by the Knesset in July amending the Basic Law: The Government, barring the judiciary from striking down government appointments or decisions on the basis of the reasonableness standard.

Beating drums, waving blue-and-white Israeli flags and brandishing signs saying “Freedom” and “Hands off our Supreme Court!,” thousands of protesters from cities nationwide swarmed the main intersection outside the high court.

The sea of protesters hoisted up a giant banner that read “The court is supreme.”

On Tuesday, all 15 of Israel’s Supreme Court justices will appear on the bench for the first time ever to hear appeals by rights groups and individuals against the first major part of the overhaul, which the the government pushed through parliament in July. The divisive law cancels the court’s ability to block government actions and appointments using the legal concept that they are “unreasonable.”

Multiple hearings at the Supreme Court in the coming weeks put the country’s top justices in the unprecedented position of defending the extent of their powers.

The court faces public pressure from the Left to strike down the law and has an inherent interest in expanding its powers and independence. But if it does, Netanyahu’s government could ignore the ruling, setting the stage for a constitutional crisis over who has ultimate authority.

Already senior Israeli officials have hinted they won’t respect the ruling if the court rules against the law — what is known as a “Basic Law” in Israel, or a major piece of legislation that serves as a sort of constitution, which Israel does not have. The court has never struck down that type of legislation before.

On Monday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir released a video declaring himself “against surrender.”

“The reform is important for the state of Israel,” he said, rejecting compromise talks reportedly underway in the president’s house between Netanyahu and opposition party leader Benny Gantz. “Caving (to the opposition) at the president’s house means violating right-wing values.”

Earlier Monday in the central Israeli town of Modiin, hundreds of rowdy protesters, blowing horns and chanting through megaphones, thronged the home of Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the architect of the overhaul. Israeli police said they arrested six people on charges of disrupting public order and blocking roads.

After a few hours, Levin left his besieged home in a sleek black car surrounded by police officers and security guards who tried to clear a path for him through the swarm of protesters.

Supporters of Netanyahu’s government say the law will prevent left-wing, unelected judges from interfering with the decisions of elected lawmakers. They also say the court should not be able to rule on a law limiting its own authority.

Critics of the overhaul describe it as a blow to democracy, arguing that Israel’s judiciary represents the primary check on the powers of the prime minister and his majority coalition in parliament. They also say the prime minister has a conflict of interest trying to change the legal system at a time when he is on trial for corruption charges.