Likud whip says he’ll push for court override bill, sparking new coalition fight

Blue and White reportedly threatens to bring down government if Yamina bid for clause that would allow Knesset to overrule High Court wins coalition backing

Right-wing activists protest in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Right-wing activists protest in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, April 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A senior Likud lawmaker said he will lobby for prime ministerial backing of a controversial opposition bill that would allow the Knesset to overrule the High Court, setting up what is likely another bruising fight within the coalition.

Miki Zohar, who serves as coalition whip, wrote on Twitter Saturday that “with God’s help I’ll recommend to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that he support the override clause that will be proposed this week. We cannot go against our voters.”

Zohar was referring to plan by the right-wing opposition Yamina party to attempt again to pass new language in the country’s quasi-constitutional basic laws that would hamper the High Court’s ability to strike down new legislation.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked announced Saturday night that her party would bring the proposal to the Knesset on Wednesday, calling it a “chance to stop judicial piracy.”

Likud MK Miki Zohar reacts during an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The idea of a clause that would allow the Knesset to keep the court from knocking down new laws backed by the right-wing has long been a top agenda item for lawmakers from Yamina, Likud and other right-wing parties, who accuse the court of judicial overreach.

While such a proposal has been bruited about in the past, it has never won the full support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or reached the Knesset for an up or down vote.

The bill has been met with fierce opposition from centrist and left-wing MKs, activists, intellectuals and others, who say it would remove a critical check and damage Israel’s democratic character, while leaving minorities and core rights unprotected.

Israelis watch a Supreme Court session on petitions filed against the proposed government, outside the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, April 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shortly after Zohar’s tweet, the Blue and White party indicated that it would oppose the bill and called on Likud to do the same, as the parties appeared to lurch toward a fresh crisis.

“We will not allow anti-democratic legislation. That’s what we promised the public and that’s what we will do in order to preserve the State of Israel,” the party said in a statement carried by the Ynet news site. “That’s what was agreed upon when we formed the unity government. We will keep to our agreements and expect our partners to stand by them as well.”

A party source told the Walla news outlet that it could pull out of the coalition over the bill, thereby bringing down the government and triggering new elections.

Likud and Blue and White have managed an uneasy partnership since forming the unity government in May with the promise of concentrating efforts on tackling the coronavirus crisis.

On Friday, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, of Blue and White, and minister David Amsalem, of Likud, announced that the coalition would strop advancing legislation unrelated to the pandemic. The move was meant to ensure that Likud would be unable to back the override bill, according to the Haaretz daily.

The unity government, formed after three successive elections proved inconclusive, has been beset by months of wrangling and blocking maneuvers between the right-leaning Likud and centrist Blue and White.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Among other disagreements, the sides are currently at loggerheads over whether to pass a one-year budget, as proposed by Finance Minister Yisrael Kats (Likud), or a two-year budget [pushed by Blue and White and included in the unity deal, according to the party.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said Wednesday that despite his party’s best efforts to hold Netanyahu to his word in the coalition deal, “there is a limit to the legal engineering [that is possible]. It cannot overcome a desire not to live up to political agreements.”

“I hope we do not come to elections,” he added. “I will fight for political and economic stability.”

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