Jewish Home head calls vote on bid to hobble Supreme Court
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Jewish Home head calls vote on bid to hobble Supreme Court

Despite Netanyahu’s bid to delay, Bennett says ministers will next week debate a clause allowing Knesset to re-approve laws nixed by justices

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/POOL)

The leader of the right-wing Jewish Home Party announced on Sunday that he would bring a bill to limit the powers of the Supreme Court to ministers for a vote next week.

Naftali Bennett said the draft he was to submit would allow a vote by 61 of the 120 Knesset members to re-approve a law that that had been struck down by the court.

He wants the legislation to take the form of a passage added to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. Israel’s basic laws are the closest thing to a constitution that the country has.

Bennett’s move is seen as a challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week pushed for the Ministerial Committee for Legislation vote to be delayed until the Knesset’s summer session.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to oppose the motion. Last week, he proposed allowing the High Court to overrule Knesset laws by a majority of six out of nine judges and Knesset members to then pass replacement legislation by a majority of 70 out of 120.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 15, 2018. (Flash90)

Bennett said in a statement thatIsrael had a “historic opportunity” to implement reform “in the fight against terrorists and the deportation of illegal migrants and, no less important, to limit the excessive power of the court in Israel.

“It is for this reason that I informed the prime minister a few weeks ago that the law had to be advanced,” he continued. “However, to my regret, not only has the law that we proposed not been discussed — no alternative has been raised. After years of procrastination, discussions and committees, the time has come to act.”

The Jewish Home party, which holds the justice portfolio, has long campaigned for clipping the wings of what it regards as an overly liberal High Court, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of the party, has succeeded in having several conservative candidates appointed to the top bench.

The idea of legislating to alter the balance between the judicial and executive arms of government has gathered steam lately, particularly after a recent ruling by the court blocking deportations of African migrants.

On Saturday night, hundreds of protesters formed a human chain around the Supreme Court in Jerusalem in a demonstration against the proposed government legislation to hobble the judiciary.

Hundreds attend a protest against attempts to enact laws that bypass the High Court of Justice and public criticism of the court’s intervention in the legislative process, in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Separately, several thousand demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv to rally against the bid.

In seeking to delay a vote on the measure, Netanyahu said the issue was weighty and that the right balance between the legislative and judicial arms of government had to be struck.

He reportedly still wants to meet with the court’s president, Esther Hayut, to discuss the issue.

On Saturday a week ago, Netanyahu met with former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak in an apparent bid to assuage fears that he intends to hobble the court with new legislation, Hadashot news reported.

According to the report, the meeting with Barak, a symbol of the power of the court, was meant to underline Netanyahu’s commitment to the justice system in general and the High Court in particular.

The move came as the prime minister’s coalition partners remain deeply divided over whether, and how, to limit the High Court’s power to override Knesset legislation that it sees as unconstitutional.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said last week that while he would agree to limit the High Court’s powers on the specific subject of deportations, he would not support a Knesset supercession clause of a more general nature.

Channel 10 news reported Sunday that the heads of the coalition parties were expected to meet with Kahlon for an update on his position.

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