High Court override bill swatted down in Knesset as Likud skips vote

Only 5 lawmakers vote in favor of measure to crimp top court’s ability to strike down legislation; Nissenkorn, Bennett spar over who is dealing with coronavirus less

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett during a visit in downtown Jerusalem on August 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett during a visit in downtown Jerusalem on August 5, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted down a bill Wednesday that would have limited the High Court of Justice’s power to strike down laws, after MKs from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party abstained from voting on the opposition measure.

The controversial proposal sough tot give the Knesset the ability to override the High Court in cases where the bench strikes down new laws. Such a measure has long been a goal of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox politicians, who have seen the court strike down measures regarding West Bank land appropriation, migrant detentions and Haredi military enlistment deferrals.

The bill, introduced by Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, lost by a vote of 71-5 in its preliminary reading.

MKs from the coalition’s Blue and White, Shas and United Torah Judaism all voted against the proposal. Shas and UTJ announced earlier in the week that they would oppose it to ensure the stability of the coalition.

Likud MK Miki Zohar reacts during an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Coalition whip Miki Zohar of Likud, who had said he would tell Netanyahu to support the bill, announced earlier Wednesday that MKs from the party would leave the plenum for the vote.

The Blue and White party had threatened to dismantle the coalition if Likud reneged on a coalition agreement and voted for the measure, which would have triggered new elections.

The idea of an override clause has been met with fierce opposition from centrist and left-wing MKs, activists, intellectuals and others, who say it would remove a critical check and damage the country’s democratic character, as well as leave minorities and core rights unprotected.

Supporters say the measure is needed to counterbalance judicial activism by judges, who are not elected and have too much power.

Right-wing activists protest in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ahead of the vote, Shaked accused the Likud MKs of “fleeing” to avoid voting against the measure.

The bill was latest bid by Yamina to attempt to split the coalition by bringing right-wing agenda items for a vote. The unity government, ostensibly formed to deal with the coronavirus crisis, has tottered under the weight of deep-seated divisions between right-wing Likud and centrist Blue and White.

Speaking in the plenum, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn derided Yamina for distracting lawmakers from dealing with the virus, noting that party head Naftali Bennett had earlier claimed that the only thing that mattered was making sure people have a livelihood.

Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn speaks in the Knesset plenary before a vote to form four committees including the Coronavirus Committee, March 24, 2020. (Adina Veldman/Knesset)

“I don’t understand how we are in a situation where attacks on the courts, the prosecution, the system of the rule of law, are coming from Yamina from every direction,” he said. “During the time of the coronavirus, Yamina is only interested in one thing, weakening the court. You need to decide if you want a democratic country with equality and the right to protest and petition [the High Court], or if you want a country where the government decides everything.”

Responding to Nissenkorn, Bennett angrily accused the government of sitting on its hands rather than dealing with the pandemic.

“How much have you dealt with coronavirus? Tell me. How are you not ashamed to say that. You’ve been in government for 80 days,” he thundered. “What have you done in 80 days? How much have you changed the number of tests in 70 days? None. … You are destroying millions of Israeli citizens’ lives. You’re killing them. Killing them from the inside.”

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