Knesset panel legal aide: Freedom of speech won’t be a protected right if law passes

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, left, leads a meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. At right is the committee's legal adviser Gur Bligh. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, left, leads a meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. At right is the committee's legal adviser Gur Bligh. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The tempestuous hearings in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee continue, with Knesset members engaging once again in the shouting matches, insults, mutual recriminations, slurs and general incivility that have become a hallmark of the committee’s proceedings as it blitzes through the various parts of the government’s judicial overhaul.

Committee chair MK Simcha Rothman — followed later by his stand-in, Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky — expel numerous MKs from the hearing during the course of the ill-tempered debate, including Hadash MK Ofer Cassif who labeled Likud MK Ariel Kallner “a terrorist,” after Kallner branded Cassif “an antisemite.”

The legislation under discussion would drastically reduce the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation deemed incompatible with Israel’s Basic Laws and allow the Knesset to pass such laws that are from the outset immune to such judicial review.

Rothman confirms that a clause in the bill would deny the court any power to interpret Basic Laws as including rights that are not explicitly laid out.

The legal adviser to the committee, Gur Bligh, states that this is the most consequential aspect of the legislation, since some fundamental rights have been derived by such interpretation by the court in the past.

In response to a question by Labor MK Efrat Rayten Marom, Bligh says freedom of speech would not be a protected right following passage of the legislation,  since it is not specifically anchored in any Basic Law.

Rothman insists that the High Court should “respect” only what the Knesset has explicitly legislated, and expresses hope that the Knesset will in the future pass a Basic Law protecting basic rights.

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