ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Supreme Court head Hayut expected to slam overhaul in speech

Ex-AGs and state attorneys issue unprecedented warning reforms may destroy judiciary

Legal advisers and top prosecutors since 1975 assail planned overhaul; current AG Baharav-Miara says PM spreading false claim she sought to fabricate probes into coalition members

Supreme Court justices arrive for a hearing over the legality of Shas leader Aryeh Deri's appointment as a minister, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supreme Court justices arrive for a hearing over the legality of Shas leader Aryeh Deri's appointment as a minister, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In an unprecedented move, almost all the attorneys general and state attorneys since 1975 signed a letter published Thursday decrying the government’s planned judicial overhaul, saying it “threatens to destroy the justice system.”

Signatories included former attorneys general Avichai Mandelblit and Yehuda Weinstein; retired Supreme Court chiefs Aharon Barak and Dorit Beinisch; and retired Supreme Court justices Yitzhak Zamir, Elyakim Rubinstein, Meni Mazuz, Edna Arbel and Michael Ben-Yair.

“We, who served as attorneys general or state attorneys from 1975 until recently, were shocked to hear Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s plan for changes to the judicial system. We are convinced that this plan does not herald the improvement of the system, but threatens to destroy it,” the letter reads.

“The plan proposes change to the method for appointing judges, thus turning the Supreme Court from an independent institution that rules without fear and without bias into a quasi-political body that will be suspected of using the law in a biased manner in favor of the government; it significantly limits the authority of the court to exercise effective criticism of the government so that it does not abuse its power; it allows a coalition majority to legalize any act of the government, no matter how wrong and harmful it may be, by means of an override clause; it may impede the function of the ministries’ legal advisers as gatekeepers whose job it is to warn against illegal decisions,” the letter charged.

“The achievements of the Supreme Court, which advanced society and benefit every person, are now in serious peril,” the letter concluded. “That’s why we call on the government to withdraw from the published plan, and prevent the serious damage to the judicial system and the rule of law, in order to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in accordance with the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence.”

Levin published draft bills on Wednesday evening that will enact his radical program to remake the judicial system and strictly limit the High Court of Justice’s authority of judicial review over Knesset legislation and executive action.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit, later Israel’s attorney general, during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, September 21, 2014. (AP/Menahem Kahana, Pool/File)

The shakeup will grant the government total control over the appointment of judges, including High Court justices; severely limit the High Court’s ability to strike down legislation; and allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws the court does annul with a bare majority of just 61 MKs. Coalition officials have said the government aims to get the package of legislation passed into law by the end of March.

The proposals, which Levin partially outlined last week, have generated fierce opposition among a substantial portion of the general public, numerous jurists, and opposition parties, who argue that the overhaul will remove all checks on government power and endanger the rights of minorities and weaker elements within society.

Dozens of lawyers across the country staged a one-hour strike on Thursday afternoon, with protests against the judicial overhaul held outside the law courts in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Lawyers protest against judicial reform in Tel Aviv, January 12, 2022 (Screen grab/Maariv)

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara are both set to speak at a legal conference at the University of Haifa. According to Hebrew-language media reports, Hayut’s speech on Thursday evening is expected to be particularly scathing about the reforms.

Meawnhile, Baharav-Miara hit back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday for sharing on Twitter a claim she was trying to fabricate corruption cases against members of the government.

“We lament the fact that the prime minister chose to share false news,” a spokesperson for the attorney-general said.

(L) Gali Baharav-Miara on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) and (R) Benjamin Netanyahu, November 2, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu on Wednesday retweeted a screen grab of a report from Channel 14, a right-wing outlet widely viewed as a mouthpiece for the premier.

The report claimed Baharav-Miara had approached the head of the police corruption unit to ask why there were no ongoing investigations into the coalition, and alleged that she was “clearly trying to fabricate cases.” The allegations only appeared on Channel 14.

Baharav-Miara has already clashed with the new coalition on the sweeping legislative changes planned and enacted by the government. Some members of Netanyahu’s Likud party have called for her to be fired.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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