ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Hundreds more Israeli academics express support for coalition’s judicial shakeup bid

Public letter by over 400 professors urges dialogue with opponents but no halt to ‘positive process of repairing the legal system’

Protesters block a Tel Aviv thoroughfare during protests against the judicial overhaul, March 9, 2023. (Courtesy)
Protesters block a Tel Aviv thoroughfare during protests against the judicial overhaul, March 9, 2023. (Courtesy)

About 300 more Israeli academics signed onto a letter of support for the government’s judicial overhaul program, joining some 120 initial signatories associated with the right-wing Professors for a Strong Israel organization in a declaration last week.

The letter last Thursday was the first large-scale statement of support for the controversial proposals from the academic community. In it, the professors asserted that the far-reaching legal reforms were needed owing to the “constitutional revolution led by [former Supreme Court president] Prof. Aharon Barak,” which they said had “violated the balance between the branches of government in Israel.”

They added, however, that it would be preferable to enact the so-called reforms through a process of dialogue and after reaching broad agreement — but said the plan must go forward regardless.

“As far as is possible, it would be good to establish dialogue and to seek broad agreement, but the positive process of repairing the legal system must not be harmed, which has in recent years greatly crossed the boundaries of other branches of government,” they wrote in the letter.

By Friday, the letter had over 400 signatories who expressed their support for the overhaul. The government is currently advancing two pieces of legislation that would radically overhaul the judiciary by giving the government and coalition full control over the appointment of all judges, including Supreme Court justices, and practically eliminating the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation that violates rights laid out in the quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Prominent signatories to the letter include Professor Yisrael Aumann of the Hebrew University, a Nobel laureate for his work on game theory; legal scholar Talia Einhorn, an emeritus professor from Ariel University; Bar Ilan University rector and organic chemistry scholar Prof. Amnon Albeck; former Bar Ilan University rector and physicist Prof. Yosef Yeshurun; former MK of the far-right Otzma LeYisrael party and professor of medicine Aryeh Eldad; and far-right activist and professor emeritus of literature at Bar Ilan University Hillel Weiss.

Aumann recently spoke in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where the judicial reform legislation is being prepared, and expressed strong support for the proposed changes to the Judicial Selection Committee. He said at the time, however, that he opposed the plans to allow the Knesset to make legislation immune to judicial review with the votes of just 61 MKs.

Advocates of the overhaul, led by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, argue that the passage of Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty in 1992 and Barak’s use of that law to exercise judicial review over legislation was an illegitimate power grab that gave undue influence to the judiciary over the Knesset and the will of the majority.

Numerous former jurists and legal professionals, including several former Supreme Court justices, every former attorney general of the last two decades, and an array of legal scholars and professionals, have argued that the government’s legal reforms are extreme and would strip the system of government of all checks on legislative power.

The overhaul plans have drawn intense public criticism and sparked mass anti-government protests across the country. In recent weeks, the judicial proposals have also roiled the Israeli military, with reservists threatening to refuse to report for duty if they move ahead as planned by the government.

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