Sunday, March 3, 2024
Homemiddle eastIsrael on edge ahead of Supreme Court session on judicial overhaul

Israel on edge ahead of Supreme Court session on judicial overhaul

JERUSALEM – Anti-government protesters scuffled with the police outside the home of Israel’s justice minister on Monday, the eve of a historic Supreme Court hearing over the bid by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to curb its judicial powers.

On Tuesday, the entire 15-judge Supreme Court bench will convene for the first time in Israeli history to hear an appeal against the judicial amendment passed by the coalition in July.

Attempts to reach agreements between Mr Netanyahu and his opponents over the contested judicial overhaul plan have so far been fruitless, adding to fears that Israel’s worst crisis in years will only deepen with the court petitioned to quash legislation by politicians who accuse it of overreach.

Despite the ramped-up rhetoric, a ruling from the Supreme Court could come as late as January 2024, leaving time for the sides to reach agreements on judicial reforms, granting a possible reprieve after months of protests and signalling stability to the markets.

If compromises are not reached, Mr Netanyahu could opt to present a scaled-back version of the original plan.

The scuffles broke out as the police moved to control crowds gathering outside the house of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, one of the main architects of the plan, with footage showing demonstrators blocking the minister’s car.

A big demonstration is expected outside the court later on Monday.

The appellants in Tuesday’s hearing – opposition lawmakers and watchdog groups – say the amendment removes vital democratic checks and balances, and invites abuses of power. They also argue that the relatively rushed legislation process itself was flawed.

In its legal response to the petitions, the government has said that the Supreme Court has no authority to even review the so-called “reasonableness” amendment to a quasi-constitutional Basic Law, and said the debate could “lead to anarchy”.

Mr Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition launched its judicial campaign in January, sparking the unprecedented protests, spooking investors and sending the shekel down as Western allies voiced concern for the health of Israel’s democracy.

Mr Netanyahu, who said the judicial changes are meant to balance a Supreme Court that has become too interventionist, has been hazy when asked whether he would abide by a ruling that would quash the new law.

With fears of a constitutional crisis mounting, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana said on Wednesday that Parliament would not accept “abjectly being trampled” by the Supreme Court.

A day later at a demonstration outside the court, far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich warned the bench that voiding the legislation would be overstepping its boundaries. “No one has the authority to quash the people’s laws,” he said. REUTERS

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