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Bill author: Ultra-Orthodox reneging on key election pledge

Court override bill dead in the water as Haredim, Liberman rule out support

Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu come out against controversial legislation that would let lawmakers override judicial rulings that strike down Knesset laws

A High Court of Justice hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 4, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)
A High Court of Justice hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 4, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

The Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu parties all came out Sunday against a proposed measure to limit the power of the High Court Justice to strike down laws, effectively consigning the bill to the scrap heap for lack of legislative support.

In an interview with Kan radio on Sunday morning, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman said he would oppose the controversial override clause pushed by the right-wing opposition Yamina party, which would amend the country’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws in order to allow the Knesset to overrule judicial rulings against legislation.

Focusing on such a bill was “a distraction from the main thing,” Liberman said, referring to the struggle against the coronavirus, which he said should be the government’s number one priority at this time.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked announced Saturday night that her party would bring the proposal to the Knesset on Wednesday, calling it a “chance to stop judicial piracy.”

On Saturday evening, coalition chairman MK Miki Zohar (Likud), tweeted that he would lobby for prime ministerial backing of the bill, setting up a new potential fight within the coalition, with sources within the Blue and White party threatening to break up the government over it.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman wears a protective face mask during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on June 7, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The idea of a clause that would allow the Knesset to keep the court from knocking down new laws has long been a top agenda item for lawmakers from Yamina, Likud and other right-wing parties, which accuse the court of judicial overreach.

While such a proposal has been bruited about in the past, it has never won the full support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or reached the Knesset for an up or down vote.

The bill has been met with fierce opposition from centrist and left-wing MKs, activists, intellectuals and others, who say it would remove a critical check and damage the country’s democratic character, as well as leave minorities and core rights unprotected.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shortly after Zohar’s tweet Saturday evening, the Blue and White party indicated that it would oppose the bill and called on Likud to do the same.

“We will not allow anti-democratic legislation. That’s what we promised the public and that’s what we will do in order to preserve the State of Israel,” the party said in a statement. “That’s what was agreed upon when we formed the unity government. We will keep to our agreements and expect our partners to stand by them as well.”

A party source told the Walla news outlet that it could pull out of the coalition over the bill, thereby bringing down the government and triggering new elections.

In a joint statement on Sunday, the Shas and UTJ parties explained that they opposed the bill because it could destabilize the government, which could jeopardize the fight against the coronavirus pandemic as well as efforts to pass a budget.

In a statement, the two ultra-Orthodox parties said that they were “committed to the integrity of the coalition and the prevention of elections.”

In response, Shaked accused the ultra-Orthodox parties of going back on their election pledges.

“Members of the ultra-Orthodox parties declared one after the other that the government’s first mission should be [passing the] override clause,” she said in a statement.

“Today they are officially joining hands with [Blue and White’s Justice Minister Avi] Nissenkorn and throwing their election promise to the garbage bin.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at an event in Bar Ilan University. March 4, 2020. (FLASH90)

In June, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned against efforts to “delegitimize” the legal system, which he said could cause a “real erosion” of the legal principles the country was founded on.

Last month, a contentious proposal backed by Netanyahu’s Likud party to form a parliamentary committee to investigate Supreme Court Justices’ alleged conflicts of interest was rejected by the Knesset in a 43-54 vote.

Netanyahu and Likud have intensified their rhetoric against the justice system over the past few months as the premier has gone on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The prime minister denies the charges against him, alleging an “attempted coup” involving the opposition, the media, the police and the state prosecution.

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