Deputy AG says judicial overhaul would render Israel a ‘very weak democracy’
Avital Sompolinsky tells Knesset panel coalition’s plan seeks to ‘almost completely cancel’ oversight; deputy AGs Limon and Marari slam push to subordinate police to government
Top officials in Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara’s office spoke out Sunday in separate forums against the government’s judicial overhaul plan, as well as its push to make the police force more directly subordinate to the National Security Ministry, arguing that both moves upend crucial checks and balances.
The new hardline coalition has raced ahead with legislation for radical changes to the judiciary that critics say will undermine Israel’s democratic foundations. It is also pushing to give the police minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, greater authority over police policy and the commissioner.
Speaking during a meeting of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Deputy Attorney General Avital Sompolinsky told lawmakers that the judicial overhaul plan would make the country “a very weak democracy.”
Sompolinsky warned that the proposed changes — which include sharply curbing the High Court’s ability to strike down laws and cementing full political control over judicial picks — will not ensure a proper balance between the branches of government, as its proponents argue.
“The result will not achieve a balanced system of relations, but rather removes checks and balances from the Knesset and government, without creating any alternative,” she said, charging that the proposed plan seeks to “almost completely cancel” the High Court as a check on the powers of the legislature and the executive.
Sompolinsky said the goal of improving the balance between the powers of government was welcome, but expressed strong objection to the current proposal.
She said the plan to allow a minimal 61-strong majority in the 120-member Knesset strike down High Court rulings was “anomalous by any measurement,” and said the proposal to give the coalition total control over the selection of justices would “politicize the justice system and severely harm its independence and public trust in it.”
Sompolinsky said the plan would remove judicial oversight on the legislature and lead to an erosion of the consideration of citizens’ rights in future government action — offering as an example the delicate balance needed when imposing COVID-19 regulations during the pandemic.
“The planned model highlights the rule of the majority as an almost exclusive principle, and it would render the country a very weak democracy,” she said.
Sompolinsky dismissed the claim that the shakeup merely seeks to restore the situation that existed before former chief justice Aharon Barak’s judicial revolution in the 1990s in which the High Court’s powers were greatly expanded, saying the proposed plan “creates something new that never existed before, and isn’t known from around the world.”
The proposed overhaul “almost explicitly says: We in the constitutive authority can do whatever we want, and there are no limitations restricting us,” said Sompolinsky.
At a separate Knesset committee meeting Sunday, deputy attorney generals Gil Limon and Amit Marari presented their detailed legal opinion criticizing the push to give the government more direct control over police, part of which was legislated in December before the government’s swearing-in, and other parts of which are currently being discussed in a special committee dedicated solely to the matter.
In the legal opinion they presented, Limon and Marari voiced fear that giving politicians greater powers over police would weaken the force and draw criticism from international organizations Israel is a member of, according to the Haaretz daily.
They objected to a clause subordinating the police chief to the national security minister, urging changes that would introduce “necessary balances.”
For example, they called for broadening the definition of the police commissioner’s role, adding a clause on the position’s apolitical nature, ensuring the minister’s influence over policy won’t diminish the police force’s power to carry out its duties, and compelling the minister to consult with the attorney general and the police commissioner on matters of police policy.