Former president Reuven Rivlin came out sharply against the sweeping changes in the judicial system planned by the prospective next government, warning Monday that they are an attempt to destroy the court system, seemingly motivated by “vindictiveness.”
Rivlin made the remarks at a conference held by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank to examine the proposed changes.
The incoming coalition has vowed to pass a so-called override clause, which would enable the Knesset to re-legislate laws struck down by the High Court of Justice with a minimal 61-strong majority in the 120-seat parliament, along with legislation that would give the government control over the panel that selects justices. Right-wing parties have long alleged a left-leaning court system overreaches its authority to hold back government policies.
“There is an attempt to threaten the court, to destroy it as an institution, to challenge its authority — and its decisions,” said the outspoken Rivlin, who was president from 2014 to 2021.
While “each of these proposals deserves serious discussion,” he said, “the problem lies, among other things, in the rhetoric and a tone… that reeks of vindictiveness and settling scores.”
“A line has been crossed away from a serious and respectful criticism of the Supreme Court to denial of its very legitimacy,” said Rivlin. “‘Governance’ does not overshadow everything else. Concentrating all the power within the political system in the name of governance is a very dangerous thing.”
Proponents of the changes were “clearly crossing the line” from “germane and respectful criticism of the court to denying its very legitimacy.”
The former president, a lawyer by trade who spent years as a lawmaker for presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, attacked the assertion by parties in Likud’s bloc that the essence of democracy is for “sovereignty” to lie with the people’s elected representatives.
“Governance is not the be-all and end-all,” he said. “The concentration of all political power in the name of governance is a very dangerous thing.”
Rivlin conceded there is an “urgent need to regulate the relationship between the legislative authority and the judiciary with a special [quasi-constitutional] Basic Law” but warned incoming coalition members that while “we need reform, we cannot afford revenge.”
“Changes in the constitutional structure must be made sensibly within public discourse, and not hastily to please political parties that do not represent the majority of the people,” he advised. “Such changes must not be used as a tool by political parties.”
Netanyahu’s Likud party led a bloc of right-religious parties to victory in the November 1 elections. Likud’s partners are demanding judicial reform as a condition to join the government he has been tasked with forming.
The proposed judicial changes — particularly the override clause — have been denounced by Netanyahu’s political rivals and prominent legal figures.
Addressing Monday’s conference, former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch warned the planned reforms were aimed at crippling the judicial system. “A court appointed by politicians will not be independent,” she cautioned, referring to proposed changes in the Judicial Selection Committee.