UN-mandated report: Israel’s proposed judicial reforms pose threat to Palestinians

Reuters  /  June 8, 2023

GENEVA – The Israeli government’s proposed judicial overhaul poses a threat to Palestinians, an independent body set up by the United Nations said on Thursday, adding to foreign scrutiny of the now-suspended reforms.

The proposals, which would curb some Supreme Court powers and increase government sway over judicial appointments, have set off unprecedented protests in Israel and Western worries for the independence of Israel’s judiciary.

As part of a 56-page report, the Commission of Inquiry (COI) cited preliminary legislation including bills that could increase taxation of pro-Palestinian NGOs and limit their ability to document Israeli soldiers’ activities in the occupied West Bank.

Other proposals by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition would strip members of Israel’s Palestinian minority of citizenship and allow for their deportation if they commit pro-Palestinian violence, the report said.

“The proposed changes would dismantle fundamental features of the separation of powers and of the checks and balances essential in democratic political systems,” it said.

“Legal experts have warned that they risk weakening human rights protections, especially for the most vulnerable and disfavoured communities, including Palestinian citizens,” it added.

Netanyahu says the proposed reforms would balance out the branches of government and roll back court overreach. But he put them on hold in March to allow for compromise talks with opposition parties.

Israel’s mission to the UN in Geneva said the report contained false accusations. “The claims against Israel presented in the latest report are widely based on so-called public hearings which would be better described as kangaroo trials,” it said. “The COI also appears to reject all submissions that do not fit its prejudged narrative.”

The commission, set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council in 2021, found Israel has increasingly stifled rights advocates, “through harassment, threats, arrests, interrogations, arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The commission, which conducted around 130 interviews, also found Palestinian authorities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza to have targeted Palestinian rights activists.

“The arrest and detention of Palestinian activists by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities was noted as a particularly harsh reality for many Palestinian activists,” the report said.

Reporting by Dan Williams and Emma Farge; editing by Christina Fincher