Jewish Home to push migrant deportation bill that sidesteps court

Netanyahu’s Likud party, meanwhile, plans sweeping legislation to weaken High Court’s power to strike down laws; possible coalition fight looms

Moshe Kahlon, left, Naftali Bennett, center, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Moshe Kahlon, left, Naftali Bennett, center, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, both of the Jewish Home party, were set Wednesday to propose to fellow coalition leaders the reintroduction of a struck-down version of a bill to deport African asylum seekers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, was reportedly weighing a tougher version of a bill that would more broadly weaken the High Court of Justice’s oversight powers.

Coalition leaders were to meet on Wednesday to debate the various proposals, with media reports speculating the prime minister would push a more aggressive bill relating to the High Court that would spark a coalition fight with the Kulanu party in order to drum up a pretense for snap elections.

The Jewish Home party’s new version of the migrant legislation would include a so-called “supercession” or “circumvention” clause, which would make the bill immune to being declared unconstitutional by the High Court of Justice.

The new bill marks a less sweeping version of the supercession clause long advocated by the some on the Israeli right that would effectively downgrade High Court decisions on the unconstitutionality of Knesset legislation to mere recommendations.

The High Court has blocked previous government deportation plans for African asylum seekers that were to be carried out within the framework of the so-called Infiltrators Law on the grounds that they either included indefinite detention of migrants or that the deportations were to countries deemed unsafe.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett (R) with Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset on November 16, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Explaining the bill, Bennett, the Jewish Home chairman, told his followers on the Telegram messaging app last week that “this is not a law that bypasses the High Court, but rather a law according to which the people are the sovereign.”

Bennett said the circumvention clause would allow Israel to deport “illegal infiltrators without the High Court disqualifying (the legislation) again and again.”

“I am convinced that all coalition partners will support a quick legislative process,” he added.

Netanyahu is said to back the more sweeping supercession bill to downgrade the High Court after the court’s recent ruling blocking deportations and its decisions that may have played a role in scuttling a deportation deal with Rwanda.

The prime minister on Wednesday delayed a planned meeting of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation where the Jewish Home bill was to be raised, and has asked his close ally, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, to draft a Likud-proposed version.

If the Likud bill includes the broader supercession clause, he may be headed for elections, as Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon, the finance minister, has said repeatedly he would not lend his party’s votes to weakening the High Court.

Kahlon has said, however, that he would support a supercession clause limited to the narrow confines of a deportation bill, as he backs a more aggressive deportation policy for asylum seekers.

“If Netanyahu wishes it, we can pass the bill tomorrow,” sources close to Kahlon said earlier this week.

Wednesday’s effort is not the first time the Jewish Home ministers have attempted to advance High Court-sidestepping legislation.

Last October, they unveiled a similar plan that would apply to any laws the Knesset deemed constitutional. At the time, the two ministers from the Orthodox-nationalist faction said their initiative would “restore the balance” between the legislature and judiciary, while critics charged it would weaken the court, several of whose recent rulings have frustrated the government.

The government was seeking to clinch a final deal to deport tens of thousands African migrants in Israel, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, to Uganda. It faces a court deadline to either forcibly deport the African asylum seekers or allow the release of all those currently jailed for refusing deportation.

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