After strong showing, Religious Zionism says High Court override bill a top priority

Incoming MK Amichay Eliyahu says the party will ‘restore democracy’ that has been ‘seized by a small group of people’ in the judicial system

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

A view of the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
A view of the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Passing legislation enabling the Knesset to override High Court rulings is a top priority for the far-right Religious Zionism party, two of its incoming MKs said Wednesday.

The two lawmakers spoke following the apparent victory on Tuesday for the bloc loyal to Likud chair Benjamin Netanyahu and Religious Zionism’s strong showing in the vote, with the party projected to double its power to 14 seats (with 86% of the vote counted).

Amichay Eliyahu, number nine on the Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit joint slate, told The Times of Israel that the party was determined to “restore democracy,” which he said had been “seized by a small group of people” in the judicial system.

MK Simcha Rothman said there would be no justification for a right-wing government if it did not succeed in passing such a law.

The Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit alliance made passing a High Court override law a central pillar of its manifesto during the campaign. Such a bill would allow the Knesset to re-legislate a law that the High Court strikes down as incommensurate with Israel’s Basic Laws.

Rothman — along with party leaders MK Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir — strongly opposes the principle of judicial review, whereby the High Court can annul legislation passed by a majority in the Knesset.

Chairman of the Religious Zionism party MK Bezalel Smotrich and his party member MK Simcha Rothman present the “Law and Justice” program during a press conference in Kfar Maccabiah in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Critics of Religious Zionism’s proposals, including current Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, accused the party during the election campaign of seeking to eliminate the separation of powers in Israel and remove the checks and balances on the authority of the executive.

In a detailed proposal for reforms to the legal system during the campaign, Smotrich and Rothman suggested specifically that once a High Court override law was passed, legislation could be advanced to indefinitely detain asylum seekers and migrants until their deportation; grant ultra-Orthodox men exemptions from military service; and retroactively legalize illegal settlements built on private Palestinian land.

Laws on all three issues were passed between 2013 and 2018 but ultimately struck down by the High Court of Justice.

“We need to pass a High Court override law to rein in this activist High Court,” said Eliyahu.

Eliyahu said changing the composition of the judicial selection committee was also a top priority.

One of the other key pillars of the Religious Zionism platform for legal reforms is to give the government control of six of the nine positions on the key committee, giving it far greater influence over the panel than ever before.

Incoming Otzma Yehudit MK Amichay Eliyahu (Dror Sithakol)

“We are not coming to harm democracy, the opposite, we are coming to strengthen democracy, which has been seized by a small group of people within the legal system, by balancing the authorities [branches of government].”

Speaking to Kan radio, Rothman said he hoped Religious Zionism would be able to implement “the central components” of its election platform.

Earlier on Wednesday, Likud MK Miki Zohar said the first item on the next government’s agenda would be passing a High Court override bill, although a spokesman for Likud said he was not speaking on behalf of the party.

Asked about this reaction, Rothman insisted that a High Court override must be one of the principal goals of the next government.

“If we, all the parties of the national camp — who spoke and voted in favor of MK Miki Zohar’s law in the last Knesset for a High Court override — renege on this promise to the voters and don’t implement it, then there is no reason to have a right-wing government,” he said.

Reacting to the election victory of the right-wing, religious bloc, Eliyahu said the public had been “looking for honesty, was fed up with political tricks, and wanted security, wanted to connect to its heritage, and wanted real healing.”

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