Knesset speaker warns High Court voiding of Basic Laws may ‘plunge us into the abyss’

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana holds a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, September 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana holds a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, September 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana warns that a potential High Court of Justice ruling next week to nullify the coalition’s reasonableness law could “plunge us into the abyss,” and that the Knesset “won’t submissively accept its trampling.”

Ohana makes the remarks in a press conference convened at the Knesset ahead of a September 12 hearing on petitions against the law, part of the government’s controversial judicial overhaul, which bars courts from intervening in government and ministerial decisions based on their “reasonableness.” Later, a separate hearing will be held on petitions against a law shielding prime ministers from forced recusal.

Both pieces of legislation are amendments to Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, which the country’s top court has never voided.

“Israel is at a crossroads, and the need to balance the branches of government is becoming clearer than ever,” Ohana says. “Tonight, as Knesset speaker, I want to put up a stop sign.”

Ohana, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, argues that since 1977, the justice system has unilaterally been siphoning off powers from politicians to itself.

“Now, we are facing a new and dangerous junction, which could plunge us into the abyss, with the High Court soon holding discussions on Basic Laws,” he says.

“Israel is democratic, and in a democracy, the sovereign is the people. In a democratic state, the justice system respects the sovereign, the people and its elected officials, and this respect is mutual. There is no debate, and there cannot be one, over the question of whether the Knesset has authorized the court to nullify Basic Laws,” he says, arguing that the court possesses no such power.

He appeals to politicians to find a compromise deal that will avert the constitutional showdown, but adds that even if these efforts fail, “this doesn’t allow the court to make a decision instead of the elected officials.”

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