By: Samantha Weinberg  | 

Unpack With YUPAC: Update on the Overhaul of the Israeli Judicial Branch

Over the last few months, many citizens of Israel have been protesting against or in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judicial system.

Netanyahu recently decided to implement a bill reducing the power of the Israeli government's judicial branch, and, with an initial vote passed on February 20th, 2023, Bibi can continue progressing with his plan with a 63–47 vote. The plan will give Bibi’s coalition more power including allowing his coalition, or future governing coalitions, to have more say in determining new judges.

Israel’s current laws state that to appoint a Supreme Court judge, seven out of nine members of a designated committee made up of two government ministers and two members of the Knesset including one from the opposition, three Supreme Court judges and two Bar Association representatives, must be in agreement. The Bibi government’s bill would give the government appointees and representatives an “automatic majority” concerning voting. The plan would also stop the judicial branch from using “unreasonability” as an argument to override decisions made by the Knesset.

Israeli President Issac Herzog commented on the plan, stating he is not in favor of allowing an autonomic majority, but does support ending the use of “reasonableness” as a valid argument for the Supreme Court to overturn decisions. Other than the preliminary vote, which, as stated before, went 63-47 in favor of passing the bill, there will be both a second and third vote prior to the bill being passed into law.

After meeting with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich — a member of the right wing Religious Zionism party — Bibi claimed that his plan of overhauling the judicial system would strengthen Israel’s economy by limiting the power of the Judicial system, making it more difficult for them to change or dismiss Knesset or other government decisions and laws. Bibi states that after the judicial reform, which he believes will pass, is approved, “I am convinced that everyone will see that rule of law is intact and has even been strengthened, that democracy remains intact and has even been strengthened, that our free economy remains intact and has even been strengthened.”

However, many people disagree, claiming this new plan would worsen the living conditions of many Israelis and weaken the democratic aspect of Israel. Citizens also fear government corruption considering the new power the coalition will hold. Netanyahu has stuck to his beliefs, as has Minister of Justice Yariv Levin, who claims this will allow more of a balance between the three branches (legislative, executive and judiciary). On the other hand, Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposing party, has stated that he believes this would cut off all possibilities of fair dialogue and allow coalitions voted in to make rash decisions regarding legislation. Netanyahu claims this will give power to elected government members as opposed to people in unelected judicial positions. However, many people living in Israel believe this plan would decrease the legal protections afforded to minorities.

Another factor cited by many protestors is that they believe the reason behind this change in the judicial system may be an effort from Bibi to free himself of the legal tribulations he is personally facing; they believe this change is not a legal reform but rather a personal matter. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Netanyahu has affirmed, in response to questions about that issue, that this has nothing to do with his current legal status.

This is a complex and evolving situation, with strong opinions on both sides of the matter. Regardless of one’s political beliefs, the Bibi government is very interested in seeing these changes pass, and the opposition and many Israelis are extremely opposed to them. Only time will tell what effect this debate will have on the country.

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Photo Caption: Demonstrators against the judicial reform in Jerusalem, on February 13

Photo Credit: Oren Rozen via Wikimedia Commons