Bennett tweets 2015 coalition deal, demands Likud support to rein in High Court

As he pushes for legislation allowing Knesset to overrule the court with a vote by 61 MKs, Jewish Home head says he expects Likud to honor its promises

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, left, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked during a faction meeting of their Jewish Home party in the Knesset, February 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, left, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked during a faction meeting of their Jewish Home party in the Knesset, February 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett on Monday tweeted a picture of his party’s coalition agreement with Likud, which pledged support for his proposal to allow 61 MKs to re-approve a law struck down by the High Court, saying he would hold Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his word.

“Agreements must be honored,” he wrote.

On Sunday Bennett, who serves as education minister, said he would bring draft legislation allowing such action to a vote on April 29, the start of the Knesset’s summer sitting.

The support of 61 out of the Knesset’s 120 members would effectively give any government the automatic right to quash such a High Court ruling.

Last week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he would consider supporting legislation that empowered the Knesset to restore a law ruled as illegal by the High Court only if at least 70 Knesset members voted to do so.

“Our demand to legislate the version that has 61 MKs is no surprise,” Bennett tweeted Monday. “Likud is signed on an explicit coalition agreement with us. Agreements must be honored. I expect Likud’s full support this coming Sunday. We’ll bring back the correct balance between the [legislative and judicial] authorities.”

The relevant section of the coalition agreement which Bennett posted on Twitter confirms Jewish Home’s determination to limit the court’s powers via an addition to Israel’s semi-constitutional Basic Laws.

It says that at least eight out of 15 High Court judges must be mustered to strike down a law passed by the Knesset. It also includes what appears to be intended as a slightly moderating element.

It says that the Knesset will be able to reenact legislation scotched by the court for the duration of that parliament’s term, plus another two years into the next term, during which time the legislature will hold a re-vote on whether the legislation should be confirmed. It is only if that subsequent vote passes that it will be made into a law indefinitely.

The Supreme Court in session, illustrative (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Jewish Home party, which holds the justice portfolio, has long campaigned for clipping the wings of what it regards as an overly liberal High Court, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of the party, has succeeded in having several conservative candidates appointed to the top bench.

The idea of legislating to alter the balance between the judicial and executive arms of government has gathered steam lately, particularly after a recent ruling by the court blocking deportations of African migrants.

On Saturday night, hundreds of protesters formed a human chain around the High Court in Jerusalem in a demonstration against the proposed government legislation to hobble the judiciary. Separately, several thousand demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv to rally against the bid.

Hundreds attend a protest against attempts to enact laws that bypass the High Court of Justice and public criticism of the court’s intervention in the legislative process, in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has sought to delay the passage of a bill on the matter, reportedly still wants to meet with the court’s president, Esther Hayut, to discuss the issue.

Earlier this month Netanyahu met with former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak in an apparent effort to show he is seeking middle ground on the issue, Hadashot news reported.

According to the report, the meeting with Barak, a symbol of the power of the court, was meant to underline Netanyahu’s commitment to the justice system in general and the High Court in particular.

The prime minister’s coalition partners remain deeply divided on court-limiting legislation. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said last week that while he would agree to limit the High Court’s powers on the specific subject of deportations, he would not support a Knesset supercession clause of a more general nature.

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