A former Likud justice minister said Wednesday that the contentious planned judicial overhaul would destroy the country’s legal system and leave citizens without protections from the government’s actions.
Dan Meridor, a Likud centrist who served in a number of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinets before leaving politics in 2014 said the premier is exercising “a desire to destroy a judicial system that was built over 70 years.”
“The entire house is facing destruction if these things pass,” Meridor said at a Knesset panel, adding that “there are issues that are up for discussion, and some issues that are not.”
“I was in this house for many years in different positions, I saw many arguments and many discussions. There were difficult discussions in which we also reached agreements, but I never believed that we would reach this day,” Meridor said, according to the Ynet news site.
“The result will be the removal of all the protections a person has against the ruling power. When judges are politically elected, what will a person think when he comes before a judge and he knows that he is facing a member of Shas or another party?” Meridor said.
“This campaign is being waged in a country that, as we know, does not have a constitution, [where] the Knesset is controlled by the government and the judiciary is the only one that can protect the heart of the law,” he said.
Last month, Meridor accused Netanyahu of putting his ambition for power ahead of the country’s best interest, selling out Israel’s democratic character to win over coalition partners by acceding to controversial demands.
The judicial overhaul proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin would drastically limit the High Court of Justice’s power of judicial review of legislation; allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws if the court strikes them down; give the government control over judicial appointments; turn ministry legal advisers’ into political appointees, and make their counsel non-binding.
Netanyahu and his government have backed the sweeping changes as necessary to rebalance power between a so-called activist judiciary and the people’s elected representatives. Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, Supreme Court president Esther Hayut, and political opposition leaders have attacked the proposals as destructive to democracy and dangerous to civil liberties.
Prof. Suzie Navot, one of Israel’s leading constitutional scholars, criticized the government’s position that reforms on the judicial appointment process were necessary because politicians choose judges in most other democracies, in an interview with Channel 12 on Wednesday.
“Israel is the only democracy where our High Court is the only institution that can limit the power of the government,” Navot said, explaining that the court’s independence is crucial because Israel doesn’t have features common in other democracies, such as constitutionally protected rights and two houses of parliament that keep one another in check.
“In most democracies today, there is a tendency to shift to the Israeli system, which limits the power of politicians, and balances them with professional considerations and the work of other advisory bodies,” she said, explaining that another system may work only if Israel had a constitution.
Navot said it would be difficult to know what Israel would look like following the reforms, noting that as it stands, “the Knesset today does not have the authority to harm, destroy, or eliminate the basic values of the state. Not the Jewish nor democratic values.”
Navot suggested that if a slim majority of 61 seats in the Knesset wanted to turn Israel into a completely secular state, “we would also say that body does not have the authority to eliminate the fundamentals of the regime.”
Asked what reforms should be made to the justice system, Navot replied: “First of all, turn to citizens and ask, what bothers you?”
“Citizens are bothered that a criminal case can take five or seven years. Delayed justice is not justice,” she said, suggesting the creation of a court above district courts, that can handle appeals and ease the load of the Supreme Court, which handles such requests.
Levin on Monday argued that Netanyahu’s indictment convinced the public of the need to reduce the powers of the judiciary, for the first time linking his controversial package of laws aimed at reining in the courts to the premier’s legal travails.
Government critics have long accused Netanyahu and allied lawmakers of seeking to overhaul the court system in order for the prime minister to wriggle out of criminal charges leveled against him. While Levin did not portray Netanyahu’s trial as the impetus for the judicial makeover presented earlier this month, his comments to the Knesset plenum underlined the tangle of political and personal interests surrounding the hot-button issue.
Also on Wednesday, the High Court disqualified Shas leader Aryeh Deri from holding a ministerial office in a dramatic ruling, setting the stage for a showdown between the government and court.