As Knesset reopens, Bennett vows to rein in Supreme Court

As Knesset reopens, Bennett vows to rein in Supreme Court

Jewish Home leader says Basic Law that would curb judicial oversight of legislation is his ‘central goal’ over next few months

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett runs a weekly faction meeting in the Knesset on October 23, 2017 (courtesy)
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett runs a weekly faction meeting in the Knesset on October 23, 2017 (courtesy)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett vowed Monday to advance a constitutional Basic Law to rein in the Supreme Court, accusing the justices of overstepping their mandate in rejecting  Knesset legislation in a series of recent rulings.

Speaking at the weekly faction meeting of his Jewish Home party, flanked by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Bennett accused the Supreme Court, which doubles as the constitutional High Court of Justice, of “forgetting” its role and placing the judiciary above the legislative branch.

“There are judges in Jerusalem who have forgotten that there is also a government in Jerusalem,” said Bennett, as the Knesset reconvened after a three-month break. “In recent years, the High Court has placed itself above the legislature instead of alongside it.”

The minister, whose Jewish Home party is a key coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, said a proposed Basic Law to delineate the boundaries of the judiciary and legislative branches would be his “central goal” over the next few months.

That law, which critics have charged is designed to weaken Israel’s judiciary, will include a clause “allowing the Knesset the option of entrenching a law such that the High Court cannot cancel it,” said Bennett on Monday.

The proposal — first unveiled in September — comes on the heels of a series of High Court rulings that unraveled existing Knesset legislation, including on IDF ultra-Orthodox enlistment, the detention of African migrants, the two-year budget, a plan by the finance minister for third-apartment taxation, and the revocation a decade ago of permanent residency status from four East Jerusalem politicians over their ties to the Hamas terror group.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (L) and Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor attend a swearing in ceremony for newly appointed judges to the Supreme Court at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on June 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett said the courts “have the right and the obligation to intervene only when it comes to the tyranny of the majority” and safeguarding individual rights in the face of government efforts.

“This is not the case, for example, in canceling the third-apartment tax,” Bennett added, referring to a pet reform by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon while clarifying that he, too, was not fond of the proposal.

Announcing their proposed Basic Law in September, Shaked and Bennett said they would “restore the balance” between the legislature and judiciary.

It “will include a paragraph allowing the Knesset to redraft and re-legislate a law after it was struck down by the court, under certain conditions,” according to a statement the two ministers issued. “It will also include clauses related to the drafting of Basic Laws, and the fact that these are not subject to the judiciary review custom in many countries around the world.”

The Supreme Court has frequently irked right-wing and Orthodox politicians with an interventionist ethos pioneered by Aharon Barak, court president from 1995 to 2006. Barak expanded the range of issues the court dealt with, viewing both the need to protect individual rights against other arms of the law, and to keep a watchful eye on government, as key.

While right-wing lawmakers accused the justices of judicial activism, the court’s defenders say its powers have developed to fill the void left by a Knesset that is famously unable to settle key questions of law and society and that frequently avoids deciding on issues of religious freedom, civil liberties or the rights of Palestinians.

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