Coalition said gunning to push judicial overhaul through Knesset by start of April

Report says Netanyahu’s government has made plan to weaken judiciary its foremost legislative priority; Justice Minister Levin holds first meeting with top prosecutor

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Justice Minister Yariv Levin (3rd-R) and other ministers sit in the Knesset after the swearing-in ceremony of the new government, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Justice Minister Yariv Levin (3rd-R) and other ministers sit in the Knesset after the swearing-in ceremony of the new government, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government is going all in with its plans to cripple the judiciary, and will strive to legislate the drastic reforms in the next few months, Israeli television reported Tuesday.

According to Channel 12 news, the coalition decided after closed-door discussions to make the judicial overhaul its top priority, with the goal of passing it into law by the beginning of April.

To meet that timeline, the report said the coalition is aiming to hold in February the first of the three plenum votes that Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s proposals must clear.

The bills will then go to committee, where lawmakers will weigh potential changes, after which they will return to the plenum for the second and third readings, which the network reported are planned before the start of April.

That timetable would likely mean the laws would pass ahead of Passover, when the Knesset breaks for a recess.

It was not clear from the report how the coalition would meet that deadline, given that government-backed bills must undergo a review with the attorney general, who has said it will take several months to issue a legal opinion on the proposed legislation put forth by Levin.

However, Simcha Rothman, the chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, has sought to expedite the legislative process by introducing similar changes in the form of a private bill, which does not require the attorney general’s input.

Netanyahu’s Likud party has also introduced private bills that mirror Levin’s, in a bid to streamline their passage.

Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman (L) Committee and Justice Minister Yariv Levin attend a meeting of the panel on January 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The planned changes include giving the coalition full control over the appointment of judges, sharply curtailing the High Court of Justice’s authority to invalidate laws, and allowing the Knesset to overrule the court when it does annul legislation.

By swiftly anchoring these proposals into law, the government would grant itself the ability to push forward with other initiatives likely to invite scrutiny by the High Court, such as the granting of blanket exemptions to mandatory military service for Orthodox seminary students that have previously been invalidated.

However, the laws weakening the courts would doubtless be challenged in petitions to the High Court, potentially creating a constitutional crisis.

Critics have warned that if the proposals are enacted, the changes will undermine Israel’s democratic system of checks and balances and harm minority rights. Proponents have touted the measures as a necessary corrector that will rein in a judiciary they argue has defied the will of voters by abrogating laws passed by parliament.

Also Tuesday, Levin met with State Attorney Amit Aisman. Neither side released a statement on the meeting, their first since Levin took office last month as part of new right-religious coalition led by Netanyahu.

This combination of photos, created on January 24, 2023, shows Justice Minister Yariv Levin (L) and State Attorney Amit Aisman. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The sit-down followed talks Levin held with top legal officials since unveiling his judicial overhaul program, among them Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Meira.

Unlike both Hayut and Baharav-Meira, Aisman has not come out publicly against the proposals championed by Levin, though earlier this month he warned against the growing vilification of the state prosecution in public discourse, in remarks apparently directed at Netanyahu.

“There is a feeling that there are those who seek to undermine our legitimacy in the eyes of the general public. Those who seek to attribute unseemly motives to our decisions and actions. [There is] a reality in which the suspect becomes the investigator of his investigators, the accused becomes the accuser, and the convicted become the victim of the system,” Aisman said at the time.

He also lamented the threats against law enforcement officials and witnesses in trials, as well as their families, which he said were getting increasingly worse.

Netanyahu has in recent years lashed out repeatedly at the justice system, as he faces multiple accusations of corruption — for which a trial is ongoing — and as his new government is now advancing radical judicial reform that will severely limit the power of the courts.

The prime minister faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies wrongdoing and says the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution, though he has provided no evidence for such extraordinary assertions.

Most Popular
read more: