Foreign envoys said to flood Knesset speaker with concerned questions on overhaul

In private meeting with dozens of diplomats, participants express fear that Israeli judiciary will be weakened; Ohana says proposals are necessary and will likely be adapted

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana during a Likud party meeting at the Knesset on February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana during a Likud party meeting at the Knesset on February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A group of foreign ambassadors reportedly peppered Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana with questions and concerns regarding the government’s planned judicial overhaul during a private meeting in parliament earlier this week.

Dozens of envoys were in the room for the meeting, and those representing Western countries were the most adamant about their concerns, worrying aloud that the coalition’s plans could lead to the weakening of Israel’s judiciary and the end of its independence, according to a Thursday report on the Kan public broadcaster.

Ohana sought to allay the fears of those in the room, explaining that there was room for negotiations on the proposals and that bills advanced through early phases are still often amended before they’re passed into law, one of the diplomats present told Kan.

However, the Knesset speaker — a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party — also defended the government’s efforts and said they would strengthen the country’s democratic foundations.

A source told the broadcaster that while the Western diplomats were clear about their concerns, they were careful not to cross the line and interfere in the internal Israeli political matter.

Ohana’s office declined to comment on the report.

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration against the government’s controversial justice reform bill in Tel Aviv on March 1, 2023. (Jack Guez / AFP)

The government is currently advancing two pieces of legislation that would radically overhaul the judiciary by giving the government and coalition full control over the appointment of all judges, including Supreme Court justices, and practically eliminating the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation that violates rights laid out in the quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Advocates of the program, including Justice Minister Yariv Levin, argue that the passage of Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty in 1992 and Barak’s use of that law to exercise judicial review over legislation was an illegitimate power grab that gave undue influence to the judiciary over the Knesset and the will of the majority.

Numerous former jurists and legal professionals, including several former Supreme Court justices, every former attorney general of the last two decades, and an array of legal scholars and professionals, have argued that the government’s legal reforms are extreme and would strip the system of government of all checks on legislative power.

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