Justice Minister Sa'ar slams 'steps toward dictatorship'

Likud MK says if party wins election he’ll reform ‘crooked’ judiciary, replace AG

David Amsalem demands to be justice minister if Netanyahu returns to office, advocating proposals that would curb court power and potentially allow ex-PM off graft trial

Likud MK David Amsalem attends a Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting on June 26, 2022. (Olivier FItoussi/Flash90)
Likud MK David Amsalem attends a Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting on June 26, 2022. (Olivier FItoussi/Flash90)

A senior Likud lawmaker on Thursday demanded the justice portfolio if opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu forms a government after the upcoming elections, pledging far-reaching reforms that would drastically curb the judiciary’s powers and potentially allow the former prime minister to escape corruption charges.

“Either I’m justice minister or I won’t enter the government,” MK David Amsalem told Channel 13 news. “The judicial system is crooked at unimaginable levels.”

Amsalem is one of several Netanyahu loyalists who were elevated in the Likud primaries last month that have championed increased political control over the selection of judges and called for curbing the Supreme Court’s authority to strike down legislation deemed unconstitutional.

Likud criticism of the courts and law enforcement has ramped up in recent years as Netanyahu stands trial for graft, claiming without evidence, that the charges are part of an effort by political rivals, prosecutors and the media to push him from power. Netanyahu, who is charged with fraud of breach and trust in three cases as well as bribery in one of them, denies wrongdoing.

Amsalem said he would begin his reform push by advancing the so-called override clause, which would allow the Knesset to overrule Supreme Court decisions with a bare majority of 61 MKs in the 120-seat Knesset. The proposal could also allow the Knesset to ignore the court’s administrative rulings.

The Likud MK also called for restructuring the Judicial Appointments Committee, which approves judges nominated for court positions. The panel is composed of nine members including three Supreme Court justices and requires a seven-vote majority to approve appointments, giving the judges an effective veto over judicial selections.

“The Judicial Appointments Committee will only be with politicians, ministers and Knesset members. No judges,” Amsalem said.

Illustrative: Supreme Court justices arrive for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud and other advocates of these proposals argue they are needed to check an unelected body that can invalidate measures that have majority backing. The judiciary and rivals of Netanyahu have pushed back on the calls for reform, arguing they would politicize the courts and undermine their independence.

In the interview, Amsalem also called for the passage of the “French Law,” which would bar police from investigating graft suspicions against serving prime ministers. He said further “study” was needed to determine if the legislation should apply retroactively, which could shield Netanyahu in his criminal trial.

“Should it apply to an existing trial? That requires study,” Amsalem said.

He also said former top law enforcement officials involved in the Netanyahu charges “need to sit in jail” and pledged to replace Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.

“The current attorney general is not worthy of the post,” he said.

Several Likud lawmakers have previously threatened that Baharav-Miara will be replaced if Netanyahu reclaims the premiership.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who appointed Baharav-Miara, slammed Amsalem over his calls to replace her and the proposed judicial reforms.

“These elections are about changing the regime and shattering the State of Israel as we know it,” Sa’ar, a former Likud minister, said of his ex-party’s proposals. “Any Supreme Court ruling can be easily overturned. There is no judicial independence. There are no more checks and balances — this is a step toward dictatorship.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu distanced himself from Amsalem’s remarks, saying they were “his opinion alone.”

“Everyone understands that the law enforcement system needs reforms and they will be done with consideration and responsibility,” Netanyahu said.

Likud is forecast to emerge as the largest party in the Knesset after the November 1 vote, though recent polls have forecast Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc will fall short of a majority. Current Prime Minister Yair Lapid and other Netanyahu opponents are also expected to come up short, potentially extending the political turmoil that has sent Israelis to the polls five times in under four years.

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