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Israel’s Supreme Court Strikes Down Judicial Overhaul Law, Threatening to Reignite Domestic Turmoil

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies announced a sweeping judicial overhaul plan shortly after taking office a year ago. Limiting the power of the court to overturn government decisions, it was approved by the Israeli parliament in July amid the opposition’s boycott as well as months-long nationwide protests.

The Supreme Court of Israel has struck down a component of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul. Specifically, the court narrowly voted on Monday to nullify a law passed in July preventing judges from striking down government decisions they deem “unreasonable.”The 8-7 decision by the justices was made because of the “severe and unprecedented harm” it could cause to “the core character of the State of Israel.”In a swift response, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, one of the architects of the overhaul, lambasted the move as demonstrating “the opposite of the spirit of unity required these days for the success of our soldiers on the front.” Levin added that the Supreme Court ruling “will not discourage us.

On the other hand, opposition lawmakers applauded the ruling, with Yair Lapid going on X (formerly Twitter) to say that the Supreme Court had “faithfully fulfilled its role in protecting the citizens of Israel.” The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which also opposed the legislation, called the ruling “a tremendous public victory for those who seek democracy.”“Only an unreasonable government, one that acts unreasonably, that makes unreasonable moves, abolishes the reasonablility standard,” the group’s chairman, Eliad Shraga, was quoted as saying.

In January, Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin rolled out a legal reform package that would weaken the power of the Supreme Court by giving the Cabinet control over the selection of new judges, as well as allowing the Knesset to override the court’s rulings with an absolute majority.The Israeli parliament has so far passed only one bill – an amendment to Israel’s Basic Law, which serves in place of a constitution – that seeks to limit the ability of judges to overturn government decisions that they deem “unreasonable.

” The opposition boycotted the final vote on the first bill in July, labeling it as a “constitutional coup,” and warning it threatened to tear Israeli society apart.

Supporters of the reform claim that it is a necessary step to enable a democratically elected government to pursue policies to the benefit of the majority of Israeli citizens. Their opponents argue that it would make it harder for the Supreme Court to intervene when elected officials make arbitrary, extreme, or corrupt decisions. protests began in January 2023 against the proposal, drawing hundreds of thousands of people. In July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US media that it is “silly” to claim his unpopular judicial reforms would mark the end of democracy in Israel. He insisted the reforms are necessary to reel in a judicial branch he claimed was “the most activist judicial court on the planet.”In September, Benjamin Netanyahu gave tacit support to parliamentary Speaker Amir Ohana’s warning to the Supreme Court against interfering with Israel’s fundamental laws, in an indication that he might not accept a possible court ruling to repeal one of the clauses of the judicial reform.

On September 12, the Israeli Supreme Court started considering petitions against the reform approved by the Israeli parliament in July. As for the protests against the overhaul that hundreds of thousands of Israelis took part in, the fresh spiral of the Palestine-Israel conflict triggered by Hamas’ attack on October 7 brought them to an end.

Brothers in Arms, a group of reserve soldiers who opposed the overhaul, issued a statement on Monday, saying their members “stand behind the independence of the Supreme Court, respect its ruling, and call all to abstain from division and hatred.”

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