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Former Supreme Court chief: Judicial overhaul ‘a recipe for wiping out democracy’

Dorit Beinisch warns proposed changes to judiciary will cause ‘irreversible harm to rights and values we all share and the country’s ability to face all the challenges facing it’

Dorit Beinisch, former chief justice of the Supreme Court, attends a book launch at Ono Academic College, in Kiryat Ono, January 17, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Dorit Beinisch, former chief justice of the Supreme Court, attends a book launch at Ono Academic College, in Kiryat Ono, January 17, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Former Supreme Court chief justice Dorit Beinisch hit out at the government’s plans for overhauling the judicial system, warning they would “wipe out” democracy.

“Under the guise of change and improvement, there is an effort to take control of law enforcement institutions, to substantially change governing institutions, to get rid of the principle of separation of powers, to harm the independence of the judicial system and afterward the independence of other authorities and institutions and make them subordinate to the government,” Beinisch said Monday during an event in Tel Aviv, according to the Ynet news site.

She warned the changes would lead to a concentration of power in one branch of government.

“The public understands that this is a recipe for wiping out democracy. This means irreversible harm to rights and values we all share and the country’s ability to face all the challenges facing it,” she said.

Beinisch noted the efforts over Israel’s history to have a Jewish state that is also democratic and upholds rights for all citizens, saying the current crisis might be the most severe since the country’s founding.

“We got through wars and terror attacks, we absorbed waves of immigrants and developed educational, economic and scientific systems that win international achievements, which are our source of pride. Now we stand before the toughest challenge of all — strengthening the common denominator that will allow our continued existence as a democratic country in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence,” she said.

Beinisch also expressed support for public deliberations on reforming the judiciary, but not as the coalition pushes forward with legislating the proposed changes.

“This is not a political matter of right or left, but rather the most significant issues that concern our constitutional regime,” she said.

Beinisch, who headed the Supreme Court from 2006 to 2012 and was earlier a chief prosecutor, has previously spoken out against the overhaul, joining a long list of former top jurists warning against the planned changes.

Her comments came as lawmakers continued to push ahead with the shakeup, voting overnight to advance a new bill that will make it possible to preemptively block laws from judicial review and in doing so position the coalition to pass the bulk of its core proposals by the end of the month.

If enacted as planned, the overall package of legislation would bring Israel’s judiciary largely under political control, almost completely preventing the High Court of Justice from acting as a brake on the executive and legislature, and giving near-unlimited power to the governing majority.

Proponents say the reforms will “correct” the balance of power between elected officials and an activist judiciary. Critics and a growing mass protest movement decry the move as eroding democracy by leaving almost all power in the hands of the elected political majority.

The full range of the measures currently in play also includes a move to block any High Court intervention in Basic Laws at all, moving the Police Internal Investigative Department directly under the justice minister’s control, stripping the authority of government and ministry legal advisers, eliminating the High Court’s power to review ministerial appointments, and shielding the prime minister from forced removal from office.

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