Nov 16, 2022 - World

Inside Netanyahu bloc's push to curb power of Israel's Supreme Court

Benjaminin Netanyahu.

Photo: Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed during ongoing coalition talks to commit to passing a law that would allow the government to bypass Supreme Court rulings, according to the incoming coalition.

Why it matters: Such a law could significantly erode the court's independence and its ability to block laws or government decisions it deems unconstitutional or in violation of human rights.

  • During the election campaign, members of Netanyahu’s Likud party and the leaders of other parties in his right-wing bloc said their first move after winning the election would be to pass a law allowing a majority of 61 lawmakers to bypass Supreme Court rulings.
  • Now, ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right members of Netanyahu's bloc are insisting that a promise to pass the law be included in the coalition agreement that is currently being drafted.
  • Netanyahu didn't initially want to include the law in the agreement but has now agreed to mention it without going into details, the sources say. The main missing detail is how many votes would be enough to bypass the court — 61 or a higher threshold that would require opposition votes.

If only a majority is needed, such a law could dramatically undermine the relevance of the court and remove one of the biggest checks on the power of the ruling government, which already controls both the executive and legislative branches.

  • The Supreme Court would also have significantly less ability to intervene when it feels the rights of minorities or human rights more generally are being violated.
  • U.S. officials say the Biden administration has been watching the public discourse about the proposed law and studying the issue and the impact it could have on Israel’s democratic institutions.
  • The White House and the State Department declined to comment.

Breaking it down: The major factions in Netanyahu's bloc all have reasons to support such a law.

  • For radical right-wing parties, the law could allow the government to bypass court rulings blocking the confiscation of land owned by Palestinians in the occupied West Bank or other rulings regarding the human rights of Palestinians and the Arab minority in Israel.
  • Ultra-Orthodox parties could seek to bypass rulings on military service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis or their autonomous ultra-Orthodox education system.
  • For Netanyahu, such a law could potentially give him more leeway to pass laws and make decisions concerning his own corruption trial. Netanyahu opposed attempts to weaken the Israeli judiciary in the past, but he has been attacking the police, prosecution and the courts since he came under criminal investigation.

Between the lines: Some supporters of the law claim the Supreme Court has become too powerful relative to the elected government, though the court has only struck down 22 laws since Israel was founded.

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