ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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Coalition said set to advance law weakening legal advisers when Knesset resumes

Report says government intends to put forth most hardline version of bill that’s part of overhaul effort; Lapid: If true, ‘the coalition doesn’t want dialogue or negotiation’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) at the Knesset plenum, in Jerusalem, on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) at the Knesset plenum, in Jerusalem, on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The coalition intends to advance one of the central bills of its judicial overhaul plan — one that would severely limit the power of ministry legal counsels — when the Knesset reconvenes for its summer session, according to a report Sunday.

The report said the coalition would seek to pass that legislation regardless of current, ongoing negotiations with the opposition in a bid to reach a compromise on judicial reform.

According to Channel 12 news, the coalition intends to put forth the most extreme version of that legislation, which would transform legal advisers and their positions from professional authorities to discretionary positions. The bill would enable ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, and also to make legal counsels’ positions non-binding on ministers and the cabinet.

The network characterized the move as part of a desire to score a clear win for the coalition, even as many other elements of its plan are currently frozen, following massive public opposition to the plan.

The television report noted that the legislation would allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to remove the legal adviser at the Prime Minister’s Office, Shlomit Barnea Farago, who he has clashed with over spending and the return of state gifts.

Currently, each ministry’s legal counsel falls under the aegis of the attorney general, to preserve their independence from political influence, and their positions are binding upon ministries. Proponents of the overhaul frequently chafe at the intervention of the attorney general and ministerial legal counsels, whom they say argue too easily and frequently override the policy initiatives of elected ministers since their written positions are binding on the government.

Critics of the government’s proposals for remaking the judicial system have warned that curbing the independence of ministry legal counsels would undercut an important check on executive power.

The network, which did not cite a source, said the coalition is expected to begin advancing the bill once the next state budget is passed into law after the Knesset’s Passover recess ends later this month. The government must approve the budget in its final two readings by May 29 to avert collapse and automatic early elections.

“If this report is true, the coalition doesn’t want dialogue or negotiation,” opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted in response.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on April 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Last month, Netanyahu announced a pause in the judicial overhaul legislation to allow for ongoing talks brokered by President Isaac Herzog — centered on issues of judicial appointments and judicial review. The negotiations are due to resume Monday.

According to Herzog’s office, the “concentrated and in-depth” talks will “deal with the core issues,” after previous rounds focused on procedural matters and establishing trust between the sides.

Along with the proposal regarding legal advisers, the government’s judicial plans also call for giving the coalition control over judicial appointments and allowing the Knesset to circumvent High Court rulings. These are currently on hold.

Critics say the plans will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.

The attorney general has warned that the coalition’s current package of legislation would hand the government virtually unrestrained power, without providing any institutional protections for individual rights.

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