Israel’s new government announces plan to severely weaken Supreme Court

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  January 5, 2023

Opposition leader Yair Lapid hits out at plans to overhaul judicial system and limit powers of Supreme Court.

Israeli justice minister Yariv Levin has announced plans for legal reforms that would overhaul the country’s judiciary system and limit the authority of the Supreme Court.

In a speech to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Wednesday, Levin called the plans a “constitutional revolution”.

Opposition figures and activists, including former prime minister Yair Lapid, have warned that they are a grave threat to democracy and a “revolution against the system of government in Israel”.

Levin is part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which in December formed an ultra-right-wing government.

Referring to the Supreme Court, Levin said that there are “judges in Jerusalem… but there is also a Knesset in Jerusalem and a cabinet. And they are the clear expression of the people’s democratic choice.”

The legislative reforms, if passed, will overhaul Israel’s judiciary and strip the Supreme Court of any real power over Knesset and government decisions. 

One of the justice ministry’s proposals is to give the Knesset the power to strike down a Supreme Court ruling by the slimmest majority, 61 votes out of 120.

Levin criticized the Supreme Court judges’ power over government and parliament decisions despite not being elected by the public.

“The constitutional revolution and the growing intervention of the judicial system in cabinet decisions and Knesset legislation have dragged the trust in the judiciary down to a dangerous low, leading to a loss of governance and severe damage to democracy,” he said.

Netanyahu had vowed to introduce “reforms that will ensure the correct balance among the three branches of government”.

The prime minister, beginning his third stint in the role having previously held the position between 1996 and 1999 and again between 2009 and 2021, is currently facing a corruption charge and could be sent to prison if found guilty.

Analysts say that he might seek judicial immunity or cancel his corruption trial.

Following Levin’s speech opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted : “Like a gang of criminals, the day before the High Court hearing on the Dery law, the government placed a loaded gun on the table. What Yariv Levin presented today is not legal reform, but rather a threatening letter. They are threatening to destroy the entire constitutional structure of Israel.”

The Dery law is a proposed bill to enable Arye Dery, a convicted politician with a suspended prison sentence in a tax evasion case, to be appointed as the minister of health and interior in Netanyahu’s government.

According to Haaretz, the Dery law could trigger the first battle between the Supreme Court and the new Israeli government, which could strike down a court decision to pass the amendment and appoint Dery.

Avi Himi, head of the Israel Bar Association, said on Wednesday that “the new government wants power without limits, without oversight and without restraints, and to turn the State of Israel from a Jewish, democratic and liberal country into a benighted one.”

Lapid said before Levin’s announcement that the opposition bloc would reverse it “the moment we return to power.”

“Anyone who carries out a unilateral revolution against the system of government in Israel should know that we are in no way committed to it,” Lapid said.