The head of a conservative think tank that has been deeply involved in the government’s controversial push to overhaul the country’s judiciary has come out against what has been a central plank of the promised sweeping reforms — legislation enabling the Knesset to override High Court of Justice rulings with a bare majority.
Prof. Moshe Koppel, professor (emeritus) of computer science at Bar-Ilan University and the founding chairman of the Kohelet Policy Forum, called the so-called override clause a “stupid idea” during a closed meeting with young immigrants last week in Tel Aviv, the Haaretz daily reported Thursday.
Earlier this month, Koppel published an article in the Makor Rishon newspaper saying that giving up the override clause in exchange for broad support for other parts of the legal shakeup would be “beneficial,” given the “understandable concern that it will be exploited, and the danger that it will contribute to escalating tensions between the branches of government.”
Kohelet researchers played key roles in developing many of the new government’s policies regarding the judiciary, and the Jerusalem-based forum even made an English-language video in an effort to sell the radical reforms to skeptical English-speakers.
“The reforms in progress will address the anomalies of the Israeli system and bring Israel just a few steps closer to the rest of the Western democracies,” concludes the Kohelet Forum video, which was released last month and features a caped jurist superhero.
During last week’s meeting — presented as a “discussion” but featuring Koppel as the sole speaker — he defended the overhaul push, arguing that by and large it will remedy the High Court’s excessive power and lack of diversity, according to the report.
But when discussing the override clause, Koppel struck a different tone.
“Yes, this should scare you,” he reportedly said. “Most of the laws aren’t crazy, but occasionally there comes a bill that is. And then the same 61 people who supported that law… will be able to override a court decision. And this is concerning.
“This override clause is a stupid idea,” Koppel declared, while adding that he was confident such a law would not pass. He admitted his think tank had in the past mentioned such an option, but reiterated that “at the end of the day, it’s a stupid idea.” The report said several articles on the override clause have recently been deleted from Kohelet’s website.
The original legal overhaul package laid out by Justice Minister Yariv Levin includes an override clause, which would allow a bare majority of 61 lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset to re-legislate laws struck down as unconstitutional by the High Court.
But the current legislative push isn’t Levin’s package; it is a slightly different set of bills drafted by Religious Zionism party MK Simcha Rothman, the head of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, who last month appointed former Kohelet researcher Shimon Nataf as his legal adviser.
This set of bills doesn’t include an override clause, although Rothman indicated this week that such a clause could be passed in the future. The ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition are adamantly demanding an override clause, and threatening to bolt the government if one isn’t expedited, saying it is critical for issues that include preventing the large-scale recruitment of Haredi youths to the military.
However, Rothman’s bill includes an even more far-reaching mechanism dubbed the “notwithstanding clause” — which passed a preliminary plenum vote on Wednesday — allowing parts of law bills to be preemptively shielded from court oversight in the first place by simply noting that they will take effect even if they contradict a clause in one of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.
In last week’s meeting, Koppel reportedly said he wasn’t an extremist and was working hard to find a compromise version of the overhaul. He said the only reason an override clause was still being planned was “because it’s important to the ultra-Orthodox,” adding that “if we can find specific solutions to their problems, that would be preferable.”