JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Justice Minister on Wednesday announced a plan to overhaul the justice system that the new government has long promised aimed at weakening the country’s Supreme Court.
Critics accuse the government of declaring war on the rule of law, saying the plan would overturn Israel’s system of checks and balances and undermine its democratic institutions by giving away Israel’s democratic institutions. absolute power for the most right-wing coalition in the country’s history.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a confidant of Mr. Netanyahu and a longtime critic of the Supreme Court, presented his plan the day before the judges debated a new law. Controversial government passed allowing a politician convicted of tax offenses to hold the position of Cabinet minister.
“It’s time to act,” Levin said.
The proposals call for a series of sweeping changes that would limit the power of the judiciary, including allowing lawmakers to pass laws that the high court has rejected and deemed unconstitutional. .
Levin introduced a law that empowered the country’s 120-seat parliament, or Knesset, to overrule Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of 61 votes. Levin also proposed that politicians play a larger role in appointing Supreme Court justices and ministers appointing their own legal advisers, rather than employing independent experts. .
Levin argues that public trust in the justice system has fallen to historic lows and says he plans to restore power to elected officials now in the hands of those he and those His supporters consider the judges excessive interference.
“We go to the polls and vote, choose, but again and again, the people we don’t vote for decide for us,” he said. “That’s not democracy.”
The planned overhaul has drawn fierce criticism from Israel’s attorney general and the Israeli opposition, though it’s unclear if they will be able to stop the far-right government from moving forward.
Yair Lapid, a former Prime Minister and head of the opposition, said he would fight the changes “in every way possible” and vowed to rescind them if he returned to power. “Those who carried out a unilateral coup in Israel need to know that we are under no obligation to do it in any way,” he said.
If the “overriding” law proposed by Levin is passed, Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies have said they hope to overturn Supreme Court rulings banning Israeli outposts on private Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank. They will also seek to allow prolonged detention of African asylum seekers and formally exclude ultra-Orthodox followers from the country’s mandatory military service.
In Israel, Supreme Court justices are appointed and dismissed by a committee of experts, legislators, and several judges. Levin wants lawmakers to have a majority on the committee, with most coming from a coalition of right-wing and religious conservatives.
“It would be an empty democracy,” said Amir Fuchs, a senior research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. “When the government has the ultimate power, they will use this power not only for LGBTQ rights issues and asylum seekers but also elections, freedom of speech and whatever they want. .”
Recent opinion polls by the Israel Democracy Institute show that the majority of respondents believe the Supreme Court should have the power to overrule laws that conflict with Israel’s Basic Law, which is seen as a kind of constitution. France.
In a speech Wednesday ahead of Levin’s announcement, Netanyahu appeared to back his justice minister by vowing to “implement reforms to ensure the right balance between the three branches of government. ”
Since being indicted on corruption charges, Netanyahu has campaigned against the justice system. He denied all charges, saying he was the victim of a witch hunt orchestrated by a hostile media, police and prosecutors. Levin said his plan “has nothing to do with” Netanyahu’s trial.
Just hours before Levin’s speech, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, a top target of the new government, announced his opposition to the appointment of one of Netanyahu’s key coalition partners, who has been convicted tax offenses. On Thursday, the Supreme Court is expected to hear the lawsuits against Aryeh Deri as minister.
As part of negotiations to form the current government, Israel’s parliament last month changed the law to allow a person convicted of probation to serve as a Cabinet minister. That paved the way for Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, to serve half a term as minister of health and interior, before becoming finance minister. He will also serve as deputy prime minister. Deri was found guilty of tax fraud and received a suspended sentence last year.
Good governance groups see legal maneuvering as a green light for corruption by a cavalier government changing laws for political gain.
Baharav-Miara clarified his stance in a note sent to the Supreme Court. She said the date “completely deviated from the reasonable range.” She has said she will not defend the state in court against the appeals, because of her objections.
Levin’s proposed changes also include removing the “rationality” check when reviewing government decisions.
Baharav-Miara was appointed by the previous government, which vehemently opposed Netanyahu’s rule.
Netanyahu’s allies have floated the idea of dividing the post of attorney general into three roles, two of which would be political appointments. That would reduce the power of the current attorney general while opening the door for Netanyahu to install someone favorable to bring charges against him.