ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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PM: We'll ensure proper balance between 3 branches of gov't

Gantz: Coalition’s judicial overhaul bid is a political coup; Lapid: I’ll reverse it

Justice Minister Levin set to announce legislative blitz including an override clause, amended framework for choosing judges, canceling ‘reasonability’ as legal grounds

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid (R) speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on January 2, 2023; Justice Minister Yariv Levin arrives for a group picture of the new government at the president's residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid (R) speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on January 2, 2023; Justice Minister Yariv Levin arrives for a group picture of the new government at the president's residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid railed against legal reforms expected to be announced later Wednesday by new Justice Minister Yariv Levin, vowing to “cancel them” once he is back in power.

In a one-line tweet on Wednesday afternoon in reference to Levin’s imminent press conference announcing a judicial overhaul, outgoing defense minister Benny Gantz said, “This isn’t a reform – it’s a political coup.”

Levin, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who earlier this year vowed to end “rule by judges,” was expected to unveil a package of judicial reforms at his press conference Wednesday night that will dramatically impact the Israeli judicial system and the separation of powers between the political majority and the courts.

The press conference was scheduled for the prime-time news slot at 8 p.m.

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening ahead of Levin’s announcement, Netanyahu defended the expected judicial reforms, saying his government will “enact reforms that will ensure the proper balance between the three branches of government.”

“Not only will we fight in every way possible each and every one of the steps that Levin will announce this evening, but I’m also making it clear that we’ll cancel them on the day we return to power,” Lapid said on Twitter.

“Those who try to carry out a one-sided coup and change the Israeli regime should know that we are not committed to them in any way,” he added.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a vote in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

While the content of Levin’s announcement was not confirmed as of Wednesday afternoon, proposals to deeply constrain the judiciary that have been repeatedly raised by members of the new coalition and Levin himself were likely to be addressed.

According to Hebrew media reports, Levin was expected to raise several burning issues that have been part of the new government’s plans to enact wide-reaching changes to the functioning and authority of the judiciary.

These include enacting legislation for a so-called override clause that would enable 61 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers to override the High Court should it seek to strike down a law or government decision as undemocratic; changing the composition of the panel for choosing new judges to give politicians a majority (by replacing lawyers on the Judicial Appointments Committee with politicians – one representative from the government and one from the Knesset); canceling “reasonability” as a legal grounds for preventing senior appointments; and allowing ministers to appoint a legal adviser of their choice rather than, as is the case now, the ministry being assigned a legal adviser under the aegis of the attorney general.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) embraces Yariv Levin in the Knesset plenum on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to a Channel 12 report, Levin will announce a legislative blitz to rush the reforms all at once through the Knesset. The report noted that the mentioned reforms are only some of Levin’s planned changes that, it said, “will shake the foundations of the judicial system.”

The timing of Levin’s announcement, especially in regard to the “reasonability” reform, was also seen as significant, coming on the day Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara submitted an opinion to the High Court rejecting the government’s appointment of Aryeh Deri as a senior cabinet minister despite legislation passed by the coalition last week paving the convicted Shas leader’s way back into government.

In her legal opinion, Baharav-Miara argued that the prospect of someone who has been convicted three times (in 1999, 2003 and 2022) and whose last conviction was just a year ago, being again appointed minister is “unreasonable in the extreme,” as several other NGOs have claimed in petitions to the High Court on the same issue.

The High Court is to hold a hearing on petitions against Deri’s appointment on Thursday, which will now occur under the shadow of declared coalition plans threat to hobble the court’s power to overrule the government.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara (left) in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2022; Shas head Aryeh Deri in Jerusalem, September 12, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90; Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The new government is putting a whip on the table and is using threats and extortion in ways that would not embarrass a criminal organization,” Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovski said on Twitter.

By contrast, the head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism’s Knesset faction, Yisrael Eichler, said that were the justices of the High Court to block Deri’s appointment on the grounds of reasonability, they would be “acting like dictators, no less than the ayatollahs in Iran.”

Said Labor party leader Merav Michaeli: “This is not how a government behaves – it is how a mafia behaves. If anyone had any doubts about the intentions of this government’s ‘legal reforms,’ Yariv Levin comes and puts a gun on the table the day before the Supreme Court debate on the appointment of the convict Aryeh Deri. Right-wing voters, this is not what you voted for, not for them taking away the protection that the Supreme Court gives you.”

Maariv journalist Ben Caspit said in a tweet that Levin “is going all-in with dismantling the judicial system, taking away all authority from the High Court and turning Israel into a dictatorship.”

“We’re experiencing a coup,” he said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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