Labor head: Shaked-Bennett proposal will ‘destroy independence of judiciary’

Avi Gabbay blasts Jewish Home leaders’ plan to allow Knesset to re-legislate bills struck down by top court; economy minister, from Kulanu party, backs initiative

Avi Gabbay at a press conference on July 11, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Avi Gabbay at a press conference on July 11, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Labor’s new chief Avi Gabbay said Saturday that a plan unveiled two days earlier, by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the nationalist Jewish Home party, to bolster Israel’s constitutional laws at the expense of the Supreme Court would lead to the destruction of the independence of the judiciary.

Speaking at a cultural event in Petah Tikva, the opposition leader said the initiative, which would allow Israel’s parliament to circumvent the twin High Court of Justice and Supreme Court in the event justices disqualify Knesset legislation, would “destroy the basis for the independence of the judiciary and turn it into a body with political calculations.”

Gabbay said he would oppose the measure, advanced by a key coalition partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, and said he believed the prime minister would oppose it as well.

By contrast, Economy Minister Eli Cohen (Kulanu) said Saturday that the proposed legislation would not weaken the Supreme Court but rather strengthen it by clearly delineating separation of powers.

Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen speaks during the 14th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“[We] need to preserve the independence of Israel’s legal system and the Basic Law on Legislation does not contradict that. On the contrary, it will determine the separation of powers,” said Cohen at a cultural event in Ra’anana, according to the Walla news site. “[We] need to enable a section to overcome court decisions in the case of widespread national consensus.

The head of Cohen’s Kulanu party, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, has previously said his party would not back legislation that restricts the authority of the Supreme Court.

Kahlon, whose party’s 10 seats are needed for the coalition to pass legislation, has yet to comment on the Shaked-Bennett proposal.

Shaked and Bennett revealed their plan Thursday night, saying 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 plan includes two new Basic Laws, the so-called Jewish state bill, which is currently being debated in Knesset, and a second Legislation Basic Law.

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

The latter “will include a paragraph allowing the Knesset to redraft and re-legislate a law after it was struck down by the court, under certain conditions,” according to a statement the two ministers issued. “It will also include clauses related to the drafting of Basic Laws, and the fact that these are not subject to the judiciary review custom in many countries around the world.”

Shaked and Bennett will present the plan to coalition leaders on Sunday.

Following the announcement Thursday, Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni, a former justice minister. fiercely criticized the proposal.

“It isn’t a constitution they seek, but rather the destruction of democracy and the Supreme Court,” she said.

The Supreme Court has frequently irked right-wing and Orthodox politicians with an interventionist ethos pioneered by Aharon Barak, court president from 1995 to 2006.

Barak expanded the range of issues the court dealt with, viewing both the need to protect individual rights against other arms of the law, and to keep a watchful eye on government, as key.

The court’s defenders say its powers have developed to fill the void left by a Knesset that is famously unable to settle key questions of law and society and that frequently avoids deciding on issues of religious freedom, civil liberties or the rights of Palestinians.

Separately, Gabbay on Saturday also addressed the graft probes surrounding Netanyahu, saying that corruption “hurts our national pride,” and that surrounding the allegations was a “dangerous political culture than harms national unity.”

“When the people closest to the prime minister turn stat’s witnesses, it’s a blow to the national pride of the State of Israel,” he said.

Netanyahu is under investigation in a number of allegations of financial misdeeds and supposed illicit ties to executives in media, international business and Hollywood. He denies any wrongdoing.

One investigation involving Netanyahu, dubbed by police as “Case 1000,” concerns claims he and his wife improperly accepted lavish gifts from wealthy supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

The second investigation, “Case 2000,” concerns Netanyahu’s alleged attempts to strike a deal with publisher Arnon Mozes of the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper group to promote legislation to weaken Yediot’s main competitor, Yisrael Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage of Netanyahu by Yediot.

A key former aide, Avi Harow, has turned state’s witness and reportedly given evidence relating to some of the investigations.

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