Cabinet ministers authorized Sunday a controversial bill to curtail the powers of the High Court of Justice despite ongoing coalition disagreements over the proposed legislation that may threaten the legislation’s continued path through the Knesset.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation, a group of ministers that decides the government position on upcoming legislation, voted in favor of the Jewish Home-backed bill to give 61 MKs (of the 120 MKs) the ability to overturn a Supreme Court decision to strike down Knesset legislation as unconstitutional.
In the short term, it would enable lawmakers to change the law in ways that would allow Israel to deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers, a step the court has prevented. More generally, the Israeli right has long criticized the High Court for its sweeping powers and sought to make the Knesset more powerful in its stead.
Jewish Home’s chairman, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said the decision “begins the process of building a separation wall between the three branches of government.”
“We must remember that the Knesset, as a representative of the people, is sovereign, as is the case in a proper democracy,” they said in a statement following the vote. “The High Court’s intervention in legislation and in government decision has for a long time breached accepted norms.”
The vote went ahead despite a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to postpone it for a third week in a row.
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning, Netanyahu said that he would have preferred to further delay the bill in order to reach agreement among all coalition parties, but would nonetheless allow the vote to take place and not use Likud’s veto to block it.
“The correct way to pass the supercession bill is by enlisting all the coalition factions. I wanted to delay it by a week in order to reach agreement and to pass the bill with full coalition support,” he said, in an apparent attempt to deflect Jewish Home criticism at his initial hesitation.
Speaking after the vote, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, one of Likud’s representatives on the committee, called the bill “absolutely necessary,” saying, “judicial activism has blurred the separation of powers” in Israel.
The legislation comes amid efforts by right-wing lawmakers to limit the court’s power after judges have repeatedly stymied the government’s efforts to imprison and deport African asylum seekers from the country without examining their asylum requests or, according to the court, sufficiently ascertaining the safety of the countries to which they were to be deported, as Israel is required to do under international treaties and Israeli law.
The clash led right-wing politicians to renew efforts to push legislation limiting the court’s ability to overturn Knesset legislation, and thus allow the coalition to pass a law that would legalize the deportations.
The bill is now set to face a first reading in the Knesset but the bill appears unlikely to progress due to objections from the coalition’s center-right Kulanu party.
Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon said that his party would oppose the bill in the Knesset, claiming that the committee’s decision “breaks the coalition agreement not to pass legislation to damage the rule of law.”
“The Kulanu faction will continue to fight against the supercession law and will not let extreme factions dictate the agenda of the state of Israel,” he said.
He said the bill, if it passed, would constitute a “blow to the rule of law,” and added, “the state of Israel is precious to us.”
Kulanu’s representative on the committee, Construction Minister Yoav Galant, broke party ranks and voted in favor.
Coalition chairman David Amsalem declined to say whether the bill would brought before the Knesset plenum this week.