Connect with us


Israel’s judicial reform and its consequences

9.3 million people united under one banner - from the point of view of their opponents, the judicial reform endangers coexistence in Israel

Despite months of mass protests, the Knesset has passed a key law in the form of judicial reform. How the reform changes the separation of powers and deepens the divisions in Israeli society.

If up to a quarter of a million people demonstrate again and again over a period of months, then there must be a lot at stake. Especially when just 9.3 million people live in the country.

Israel has been experiencing the biggest protests in its history since January – probably also because the judicial reform initiated by the government could change the country significantly. The Knesset in Jerusalem has now passed another core element of the reform, despite the massive headwind.

What are the core elements of judicial reform?

The right-wing religious coalition government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to realign the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judiciary in several respects. Instead of a constitution, individual laws regulate the interaction of the institutions in Israel.

Traditionally, the Supreme Court in Israel has had a relatively strong position because there is no second chamber of parliament that could control Knesset legislation.

Israel I Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Knesset bench in JerusalemImage: Maya Alleruzzo/AP/picture alliance

The main focus at the moment is the so-called adequacy clause: Up to now, the Supreme Court has been able to classify government decisions as “inappropriate” and declare them null and void. Netanyahu’s right-wing religious government now wants to withdraw this competence from the judges. After an initial vote in mid-July, the decisive vote took place among the 120 members of the Knesset: all 64 parliamentarians in the coalition voted yes, meaning that the law has now been passed. 

According to reports, the next project is to be brought through the Knesset as early as autumn: it is to give the government more powers in filling judicial offices. At the end of June, Netanyahu had indicated a partial concession in this area. In an interview with the “Wall Street Journal,” he also stated that he even wanted to drop the so-called cancellation clause completely. Parliament would thus have given itself the right to effectively overturn judgments of the Supreme Court.

How do the proponents argue?

Unlike the 120 members of the Knesset, judges are not elected directly by the people. That is why the government and its supporters see a strengthening of democracy in judicial reform. From their point of view, the judiciary has supremacy in the Israeli separation of powers, and the reform improves the balance between the institutions.

More recently, supporters of the reform have also taken to the streets. According to media reports, around 50,000 participants were counted in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, including many residents of other parts of the country and settlers from the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Following the rally clashes with emergency services and an attack on a camera team were reported.

Israel Itamar Ben-Gvir
The current cabinet is more right-wing than any other in Israel – not least through Security Minister Itamar Ben-GvirCredit: EyalWarshavsky/ZUMA Wire/IMAGO

Within the governing coalition, judicial reform is being pushed ahead primarily by right-wing nationalists and the religious. The radical right-wing Minister for National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, recently declared that his party “Jewish Strength” rejects “any softening” of the draft law as “castration”. He called on the coalition to pass the law in its current form and to move forward with other parts of the judicial reform.

What are your opponents afraid of?

From the point of view of many citizens, the government is planning nothing less than the “destruction of democracy” – that’s what was repeatedly written on posters and banners. Comparisons are also made with Poland and Hungary, where the respective governments have also restructured the judiciary according to their ideas. Both states are considered the problem children of the European Union in terms of the rule of law and separation of powers and are therefore each faced with several infringement procedures.

Israel |  Judicial Reform |  protest
In a protest camp right next to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, demonstrators are calling for the reform plans to be abandonedCredit: DEBBIE HIL/UPI PhotoL/IMAGO

Critics believe that the judicial reform in Israel also threatens a deeper division in society: in the past, the Supreme Court has repeatedly defended values ​​such as gender equality and the protection of sexual minorities against strict religious restrictions. That is why many Israelis, who would describe themselves as secular, left-wing or liberal, fear a restructuring towards the ultra-Orthodox wing.

The issue has even reached the army, whose mandatory service for men and women has for decades served as a melting pot and social glue in the country of immigration (with exceptions for the ultra-Orthodox, who have been repeatedly condemned by the Supreme Court as discriminatory). Over the weekend, 1,142 Israeli Air Force reservists threatened to quit their voluntary service if judicial reform is passed. “We all have a collective responsibility for overcoming deep divisions, polarization, and rifts among the people,” they said in a joint statement.

Due to a higher birth rate, the proportion of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israeli society has been increasing for decades. The statement was also joined by members of numerous other units, including reservists from the domestic and foreign intelligence services Shin Bet and Mossad.

Israel |  Judicial Reform |  protest
Freedom and a love of democracy – many liberal Israelis see their position in society endangered by the reformImage: Amir Cohen/REUTERS

Who is still trying to reach an agreement?

President Itzhak Herzog, in particular, showed visible efforts to mediate. According to his own statements, he sees Israel in a “national emergency” and called on the MPs to show courage and make an agreement possible. On the eve of the vote, Herzog drove to the hospital for a mediation meeting: Prime Minister Netanyahu had to have a pacemaker fitted and was only released from the hospital hours before the vote.

Defense Minister Joav Galant acted as a mediator within the governing coalition. In response to the Air Force reservists’ statement last Friday, Galant said he would seek a “consensus.” In March, the minister called for the reform to be stopped and warned of the consequences for national security. Netanyahu then fired his Likud party colleague but had to bring him back into the cabinet after massive public criticism.

What’s next?

First of all, the authorities are preparing for increasingly angry protests: police chief Kobi Shabtai told Channel 12 News that the police were preparing to prevent protesters from entering the Knesset.

Civil society groups such as the “Movement for Quality Government” indicated immediately after the vote in the Knesset that they would have the revised adequacy clause reviewed by the Supreme Court. The judges should therefore check whether their own partial disempowerment is constitutional. If they answered no to this question, Israel would probably finally be on the brink of a state crisis. In order to avert this, the government would probably have to withdraw the judicial reform – a scenario in which observers already expect the coalition to break up.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply


Must See


More in Politics