Levin not present at start of weekly cabinet meeting

Gallant: ‘We’ll act according to law’ if court strikes down reasonableness bill

Defense minister’s comment come after Netanyahu last week wouldn’t say if he’d abide by potential ruling; PM doesn’t mention overhaul in cabinet speech

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a vote on the so-called reasonableness bill at the Knesset, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a vote on the so-called reasonableness bill at the Knesset, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant implied Sunday that the government would abide by a Supreme Court decision, if such a decision were made, to strike down the reasonableness law passed by the Knesset last week, which curtailed judicial oversight over the decisions of elected officials.

“The State of Israel is a democratic nation of laws. We will act according to the law,” Gallant said, when asked by a reporter from the Kan public broadcaster if the government would respect such a potential decision.

Gallant made the statement as he entered the weekly cabinet meeting.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the architect of the hardline coalition’s contentious judicial overhaul, was notably not present at the start of the meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no mention of his government’s efforts to dramatically weaken the judiciary in his opening statements at the meeting.

Instead, he listed three goals of the government that would change lives: reducing the cost of living, a cross-country rail network that was then approved by the cabinet, and a law to make it easier to invest in the tech industry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, July 30, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Netanyahu repeated his exhortation that the Knesset’s summer break should be used to “reach consensus,” without explicitly mentioning the overhaul.

Gallant’s comment that the court ruling would be respected contrasted with a media appearance last week during which Netanyahu refused to say whether he would abide by any potential ruling overturning the reasonableness law.

“If the court does strike this down, will you abide by the rule of law?” he was asked by CNN, during a blitz of international media interviews by the premier, who has avoided sitting down with Israeli outlets.

“We’ll go into uncharted territory, and I really would like to believe that they won’t do that,” he responded. “We’re all subject to the rule of law. The prime minister is subject to the rule of law. The Knesset, our parliament, is subject to the rule of law. The judges are subject to the law. Everybody is subject to the law.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) and Justice Minister Yariv Levin (right) argue across Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on July 24, 2023, ahead of the vote on the reasonableness law. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A day later, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a clarification in which it said “the governments of Israel always respect court rulings.”

But the statement still did not clearly commit to doing so in this case. It qualified its apparent assurance by noting that, at the same time, “the court has always viewed itself as obligated by Basic Laws, to which it confers the status of a constitution.”

“Like the majority of Israelis, the prime minister believes both principles must be maintained,” the statement said.

The government’s highly contentious legislation, passed last week, which prevents judicial oversight of government and ministerial decisions on the grounds of reasonableness, was an amendment to Israel’s Basic Law: The Judiciary.

Israelis protest against the judicial overhaul implemented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, July 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The Supreme Court has never struck down changes to a Basic Law, though never has any Basic Law legislation caused such uproar and division within the public as last week’s bill.

Critics of the bill have said passing such a critical piece of legislation with only a bare majority (64 of the Knesset’s 120 members), and at a swift pace that did not allow much time for deliberations or review, could and should lead the court to consider taking action in this case.

Meanwhile, Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar pushed back against reports of an alleged “rebellion” within the premier’s Likud party if further overhaul legislation were to be pushed through unilaterally.

“I suggest that all the commentators talking about a rebellion in Likud cool their enthusiasm. They have been talking about a rebellion for years, and in the meantime Likud stays united,” Zohar said, according to leaks from the cabinet meeting published by Hebrew-language media.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev noted that she and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich had their disagreements, but that ultimately “our struggles bear fruit for the State of Israel.”

The cabinet on Sunday was also set to discuss a proposal to allocate an additional NIS 164.5 million ($44.4 million) for increased stipends to yeshiva students, funding it via an across-the-board cut at all government ministries.

Yeshiva students study at the Kamenitz Yeshiva, in Jerusalem on July 25, 2023 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The sum would be on top of discretionary funds already included in the budget to increase stipends for Haredi men who choose to engage in full-time study of religious texts instead of working and serving in the military.

According to the proposal, approved Saturday night by Smotrich, NIS 79 million ($21.33 million) will be approved to increase state support to Haredi Torah study institutions; NIS 51 million ($13.77 million) will go toward increasing their number of students; NIS 15 million ($4.05 million) will be used to fund studies by non-Israelis in those institutions; and NIS 19.5 million ($5.27 million) will fund non-Haredi religious institutions, including institutions for girls, institutions in the Gaza border area, and institutions that encourage military service.

The proposal would increase the 2023 budget for Torah-teaching institutions to NIS 1.089 billion ($294.08 million).

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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