The Israeli Parliament must adopt in first reading, Monday, February 13, some of the provisions of the controversial judicial reform aimed at increasing the power of elected officials over that of magistrates, in particular a clause relating to the selection of judges. Opponents of the plan have called for a mass protest outside the Knesset.
More numerous than in previous weeks, thousands of Israelis have already demonstrated, Saturday, February 11, in Tel Aviv and in other cities of the country, against this reform brought by the government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. For the first time since the movement began in January, several dozen protesters gathered in Efrat, an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
The reform would significantly limit the ability of the Supreme Court to invalidate laws and government decisions. A so-called “override clause” would allow the Knesset, by simple majority vote, to overturn a Supreme Court decision and re-enact invalidated laws. If this measure were adopted, it could be used to quash a possible conviction of the Prime Minister, tried for corruption in a series of cases.
The elect against the judges
The text also plans to modify the system of appointment of judges by giving more weight to political power. Supreme Court justices are currently appointed by a panel of judges, MPs, and lawyers from the bar, under the supervision of the Minister of Justice. The reform proposes to remove the lawyers from this panel, where two citizens would sit in their place, in addition to a minister. The Knesset would also hold public hearings on the nominations.
The government also wants to prevent judges from invoking the “reasonableness” of a decision. On January 18, the Supreme Court invalidated the appointment of Arié Dery as Minister of the Interior and Health, arguing that he had been found guilty of tax evasion and that he was therefore not ” reasonable” that he sits in government.
A tailor-made amendment, voted in December, had allowed him to join the executive. Following the judges’ decision, Benyamin Netanyahu nevertheless had to dismiss him from office, while accusing the magistrates of ignoring “the will of the people”.
Finally, the executive would like to reduce the weight of legal advisers in the ministries. With the reform, their recommendations, cited by Supreme Court justices when ruling on government conduct, will be seen as clearly non-binding advice.
For its detractors, the reform gives almost absolute power to elected members of parliament over the magistrates and jeopardizes the democratic character of the State of Israel, a “legal coup d’etat” they say. “This is an unbridled attack on the justice system, as if it represents an enemy that must be fought and crushed,” said Supreme Court President Esther Hayut recently.
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