120 Israeli academics express support for government’s judicial overhaul plan

Public letter by professors from various fields, including Nobelist, argues judiciary took excessive power from legislative, executive branches, calls for ‘broad agreement’

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Demonstrators block a road and clash with police as they protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Demonstrators block a road and clash with police as they protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

A group of 120 academics associated with the right-wing Professors for a Strong Israel organization have expressed support for the government’s judicial overhaul program, the first large-scale statement of support for the controversial proposals from the academic community.

In a declaration, the professors asserted that the far-reaching legal reforms were needed owing to the “constitutional revolution led by [former Supreme Court president] Prof. Aharon Barak,” which they said had “violated the balance between the branches of government in Israel.”

They added, however, that it would be preferable to enact the reforms through a process of dialogue and after reaching broad agreement — but said that reforms must go forward regardless.

The professors who signed the agreement come from a broad swath of academic disciplines, including some legal scholars, and from several universities across the country.

The signatories include Professor Yisrael Aumann of the Hebrew University, a Nobel laureate for his work on game theory; legal scholar Talia Einhorn, an emeritus professor from Ariel University; Bar Ilan University rector and organic chemistry scholar Prof. Amnon Albeck; former Bar Ilan University rector and physicist Prof. Yosef Yeshurun; former MK of the far-right Otzma LeYisrael party and professor of medicine Aryeh Eldad; far-right activist and professor emeritus of literature at Bar Ilan University Hillel Weiss.

“The violation of the balance between branches of government and the increase in power of the [High] Court were done through various instruments, including judicial review over primary legislation, including its expansion to Basic Laws, broadening the right to standing, broadening the doctrine of justiciability, broadening the use of reasonableness, the use of objective interpretation [of the law], and greatly increasing the authority of government legal advisers,” argued the professors in a public letter published on Thursday.

Professor Yisrael (Robert) Auman speaks in a hearing of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee regarding the government’s judicial overhaul legislation, January 22, 2023. (Screenshot/Knesset Channel)

In the letter, the academics contended that the legislative process provides ample space for deliberation — and that the place to debate the reforms was the Knesset.

“As far as is possible, it would be good to establish dialogue and to seek broad agreement, but the positive process of repairing the legal system must not be harmed, which has in recent years greatly crossed the boundaries of other branches of government,” they added.

Aumann recently spoke in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where the judicial reform legislation is being prepared, and expressed strong support for the proposed changes to the Judicial Selection Committee. He said at the time, however, that he opposed the plans to allow the Knesset to make legislation immune to judicial review with the votes of just 61 MKs.

The government is currently advancing two pieces of legislation that would radically overhaul the judiciary by giving the government and coalition full control over the appointment of all judges, including Supreme Court justices, and practically eliminating the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation that violates rights laid out in the quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Advocates of the program, including Justice Minister Yariv Levin, argue that the passage of Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty in 1992 and Barak’s use of that law to exercise judicial review over legislation was an illegitimate power grab that gave undue influence to the judiciary over the Knesset and the will of the majority.

Numerous former jurists and legal professionals, including several former Supreme Court justices, every former attorney general of the last two decades, and an array of legal scholars and professionals, have argued that the government’s legal reforms are extreme and would strip the system of government of all checks on legislative power.

Most Popular
read more: