Israeli Supreme Court strikes down Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform Basic Law

Benjamin Netanyahu (Europa Press)

Supreme Court of IsraelHe on Monday canceled a key component of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reformA decision that threatens to reopen rifts in Israeli society that predate the country’s current war against Hamas.

those divisions As the country’s attention was focused on the Gaza war, they were largely sidelined, which began with a bloody cross-border attack by Hamas. Monday’s court decision could reignite tensions that have fueled months of mass protests against the government and stymied the mobilization of the powerful military.

In Monday’s ruling, the court narrowly voted to overturn a law passed in July that prevents judges from overturning government decisions they deem “unfair.” Opponents have argued that Netanyahu’s efforts to eliminate the reasonableness standard have opened the door to corruption and inappropriate appointments of unqualified associates to key positions.

The law was the first in a planned overhaul of the Israeli judicial system. The reforms were halted after Hamas militants attacked on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and abducting another 240. Israel immediately declared war and is pressing ahead with an offensive that Palestinian health officials say has killed about 22,000 people in Gaza.

In an 8–7 decision, the Supreme Court justices struck down the law for “causing serious and unprecedented harm to the essential character of the State of Israel as a democratic country.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at Kirya military base (Ohad Zweigenberg/Reuters)

The judges also voted 12 versus 3 that they have the authority to overturn the call. “basic Law”Important legislative instruments that act as a kind of constitution for Israel.

It was a blow to Netanyahu and his hardline allies, who had claimed that the final say on the validity of the law and other major decisions should rest with the national legislature, not the Supreme Court. The judges said that the Knesset or Parliament does not have “omnipotent” powers.

Netanyahu and his allies announced their sweeping reform plan soon after taking office a year ago. It proposes cutting the power of judges, from limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to review parliamentary decisions to changing the way judges are appointed.

Netanyahu and his allies say the changes are aimed at strengthening democracy by limiting the authority of unelected judges and giving more powers to elected officials. But opponents see the reforms as a power grab by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, and an attack on a prominent watchdog.

Before the war, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets in weekly anti-government protests. Among the protesters were military reservists, including fighter pilots and members of other elite units, who said they would stop reporting for duty if the reforms were approved. Reserve soldiers are the backbone of the army.

Although reservists immediately returned to duty in a show of unity after the October 7 attacks, it is unclear what will happen if review efforts resume. Renewed protests could undermine national unity and affect military readiness if soldiers refuse to report for duty.

In the Israeli system, the Prime Minister rules through a majority coalition in the parliament, giving him control over the executive and legislative branches.

As a result, The Supreme Court plays an important oversight role. Critics say that by trying to weaken the judiciary, Netanyahu and his allies are attempting to dismantle the country’s investigations and security measures and consolidate power over the independent third branch of government.

Netanyahu’s allies include several ultra-nationalist and religious parties who have a list of grievances against the court.

His allies have called for increased settlement construction in the West Bank, annexation of the occupied territories, maintaining draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men, and limiting the rights of LGBTQ+ people and Palestinians.

The United States had previously urged Netanyahu to postpone the plans and seek broad consensus across the political spectrum.

The court announced its decision as its outgoing chairperson, Esther Hayut, is retiring and Monday was her last day in office.

(With information from AP)

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