'It is not broken, do not fix it'

‘Terrible mistake’: Dershowitz urges Netanyahu to scrap Supreme Court override plan

The staunch Israel supporter, once referred to by PM-designate as ‘one of the world’s greatest lawyers,’ says Israel’s highest bench is ‘the jewel of judiciaries around the world’

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Alan Dershowitz speaks at an event at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv on December 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Alan Dershowitz speaks at an event at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv on December 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Alan Dershowitz, a prominent American lawyer and in the past an advocate of Benjamin Netanyahu, has urged him to reconsider plans for legal reforms that would drastically weaken the Israeli Supreme Court, an institution Dershowitz hailed as “the jewel of judiciaries around the world.”

In a video message to the Hebrew news site Ynet published Thursday, the staunch Israel supporter said it would be “a terrible mistake” for the presumed incoming coalition to move forward with plans to constrain Israel’s top court.

“It would be a terrible, terrible mistake for an override to be permitted by the Knesset in Israel,” Dershowitz said. “It would be a terrible mistake to weaken the independence of the Supreme Court. It would be a terrible mistake for politicians to be able to dictate who is on the Supreme Court or how the Supreme Court decides cases.”

The incoming coalition has vowed to pass a so-called override clause, enabling the Knesset to re-legislate laws struck down by the High Court as undemocratic with a minimal 61-strong majority in the 120-seat parliament, and also to give the governing coalition of the day control over the panel that appoints justices.

Some allies of presumed incoming prime minister Netanyahu have also floated legislation that could end his ongoing trial on corruption charges.

“The independence of the Israeli Supreme Court is essential,” Dershowitz stressed, “not only to the preservation of Israeli democracy but to Israel’s attempt to present itself in an honest, truthful and positive way to the world.”

Presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bezalel Smotrich, the Religious Zionism party leader and a key figure in Netanyahu’s nascent coalition, last month unveiled detailed plans for radical judicial reform that would essentially neuter the court. In a coalition agreement signed on Thursday, Smotrich’s party was given the chair of the Knesset’s influential Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, a key stop for legislating judicial reform.

Dershowitz, once referred to by Netanyahu as “one of the world’s greatest lawyers,” praised the Israeli top court.

“I’ve been a student of the Israeli Supreme Court for more than half a century. I’ve taught courses in comparative constitutional law featuring the opinions of the Israeli Supreme Court,” he said.

“[William] Brennen of the United States Supreme Court once said that if and when terrorism comes to America there’s only one court that the American court should follow and that is the Israeli Supreme Court,” he added.

Dershowitz also suggested that any attempt to limit the top court’s authority could result in legal issues for Israel on the international stage.

“The Israeli Supreme Court has been the main argument Israel has been able to make to keep issues away from the International Criminal Court and other international courts,” he warned. “It is not broken, do not fix it. It is a gem and jewel and a center of Israeli democracy and Israeli strength.”

On Thursday, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut vowed that the court system would weather the next government’s planned reforms and asserted the crucial importance of an independent judiciary.

The courts will “continue to stand strong even in light of the ‘lightning and thunder’ being seen and heard at this time,” Hayut said, in her first public reaction to the emerging reforms.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ester Hayut attends a hearing in Jerusalem on December 1, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Dershowitz has actively defended Netanyahu during his ongoing corruption trials.

In October 2019, he provided Netanyahyu’s lawyers with a legal opinion that argued that investigating his alleged efforts to sway media coverage as part of his corruption trial as a criminal offense constituted a danger to democracy.

He also previously stated that politicians routinely negotiate with news outlets on coverage, saying in a 2018 interview with Army Radio that “interfering in the relationship between media and the government poses a tremendous danger to free speech,” and arguing that “There is not enough proof of a criminal offense.”

Netanyahu’s alleged criminal interactions with prominent owners of Israeli media outlets, providing them benefits in exchange for positive coverage, are at the heart of the most serious of the three cases against him, Case 4000, in which he is charged with fraud and breach of trust, and bribery. He denies all the allegations against him.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

Most Popular
read more: