Majority of Israelis opposes key planks of judicial overhaul plan, survey finds

Israel Democracy Institute polls says 66% of public opposes curtailing High Court, including close to half of Likud voters

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Israelis hold signs and wave the Israeli flag as they walk in the streets of Tel Aviv, protesting the government's planned judicial overhaul, February 20, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
Israelis hold signs and wave the Israeli flag as they walk in the streets of Tel Aviv, protesting the government's planned judicial overhaul, February 20, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

A majority of Israelis oppose the government’s push to subvert the judiciary, including a substantial minority of voters who supported coalition parties, according to a survey released on Tuesday.

More than half of all voters oppose each of the main proposals put forward by the government, the survey said.

The poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 66% of Israelis believe the High Court should have the power to strike down laws that are incompatible with the quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, a central tenet of the government’s judicial plan.

Among respondents who voted for opposition parties, 87% support the court’s power to review Basic Laws, and for those who voted for coalition parties, 44%.

Close to half — 47% — of respondents who voted for Netanyahu’s Likud party supported the court’s ability to oversee Basic Laws.

The survey found that 63% of Israelis think the Judicial Selection Committee should maintain its balance between justices and politicians, who must reach agreement on judicial appointments. The government’s proposed legislation would give politicians control over the committee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and his coalition allies at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)

For Likud voters, only 39% believe the coalition should always hold a majority in the judicial selection committee. A majority of voters for the coalition’s Shas party — 57% — are against the proposal.

Just 23% of voters said more politicians should be added to the judicial selection committee.

Fifty-eight percent of voters are opposed to changing the process of appointing government legal advisers, another plank of the government’s judicial plan.

Most Israelis, 70%, said the coalition and opposition should hold a dialogue in an attempt to reach a compromise, including 60% of coalition voters and 84% of those who voted for opposition parties.

Opposition MKs drape themselves in Israelis flags during a Knesset debate on the coalition’s first judicial reform bill, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog has pleaded for negotiations, but the coalition has refused to pause the legislative process during talks, as has been demanded by the opposition.

A slight majority of Israelis agree with warnings that the plan will harm Israel’s economy, while only 35% agree with Netanyahu, who has disputed those warnings, the survey said.

More than half of Israelis said they fear damage to their personal savings, restrictions on freedom of expression, exposing IDF soldiers to international war crimes charges, politicization of the civil service, restrictions on public transportation during Shabbat and harm to gender equality.

Forty-three percent said they were concerned about harm to LGBTQ rights, and 45% feared a negative impact on the rights of Arab Israelis, including 87% of Arab respondents.

The Israel Democracy Institute’s Viterbi Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research carried out the survey online and via telephone between February 9-13.

A total of 606 Israelis were queried in Hebrew, and 150 in Arabic, in a representative sample of the adult population. The sampling error was 3.56%, the Israel Democracy Institute said.

Early Tuesday, the Knesset passed, in the first of three readings, a first and significant bill in the divisive effort by Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition to overhaul Israel’s judiciary.

The legislation aims to amend the Basic Law: The Judiciary to cement government control over judicial appointments and revoke the High Court’s ability to review Basic Laws.

The legislation now returns to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for preparation for its second and third readings, which are expected by the end of March.

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