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1 Jan, 2024 21:49

Israel strikes down judicial overhaul

The polarizing legislation, initially passed in July, was rejected as incompatible with democracy
Israel strikes down judicial overhaul

Israel’s Supreme Court struck down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reform legislation on Monday, canceling a measure that had limited the court’s power to challenge the government’s actions.

In an 8-7 vote, the court ruled that a legal amendment that had stripped it and all lower courts of the power to cancel any government decision or appointment deemed “extremely unreasonable,” would deal a “severe and unprecedented blow to the core characteristics of the State of Israel as a democratic state.” 

The amendment to the ‘reasonableness standard’, one of Israel’s foundational Basic Laws, was unanimously passed in the Knesset amid some of the largest protests in Israel’s history in July, as the opposition opted to boycott the vote. 

Over the summer, tens of thousands took to the streets every week to demonstrate against the reform and others proposed by Netanyahu, viewing the package as an attempted power grab by a leader already on trial for bribery and corruption. Prior to Hamas’ October 7 attack and the ensuing war in Gaza, thousands of Israel Defense Forces reservists even threatened to refuse to report for duty over the controversial legislation.

The attack eclipsed the disagreements over judicial reform, however, leading prominent opponents Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz to mend fences with Netanyahu and join his war cabinet. Gallant had been temporarily dismissed as minister of defense in March over his public condemnation of the reform, while Gantz had led some of the protests against the measure.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who did not accept an invitation to join the wartime body, declared his support for the Supreme Court’s decision in a post on X (formerly Twitter) on Monday, stating it had “faithfully fulfilled its role in protecting the citizens of Israel.” 

Minister of Justice Yariv Levin, who authored the cancelled legislation, condemned the court for displaying “the opposite of the spirit of unity required these days for the success of our fighters on the front.” Levin had previously lashed out at the court when a leaked draft of the ruling was published on Friday, arguing that Israelis “expect the Supreme Court not to publish during a war a ruling that is controversial even among its judges.” 

The ruling Likud party called the court’s decision “unfortunate,” claiming it was “against the will of the people for unity, especially during wartime.” 

On Saturday, Netanyahu hinted that “wartime” could last well into 2024, telling reporters that “many more months” of fighting in Gaza were still to come. In a statement on Sunday, IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari suggested the war could last all year.