Bennett threatens to thwart all legislation if bid to limit court isn’t passed

Jewish Home leader says ministers must vote on measure within 10 days or party’s MKs ‘will no longer take part in coalition votes’

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during the event launching the "Israeli Hope Journey" with educational teams, to deepen the cooperation between the different sectors in Israel, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on April 23, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during the event launching the "Israeli Hope Journey" with educational teams, to deepen the cooperation between the different sectors in Israel, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on April 23, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the Jewish Home party, on Tuesday morning threatened to hold up coalition legislation if ministers don’t approve within 10 days a controversial bill that would rein in Israel’s Supreme Court.

Bennett’s threat came a day after coalition partners put off by a week a vote on the bill by the powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The rescheduling of the vote was prompted by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, who had made the postponement a condition for meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a statement, Bennett said: “If within 10 days the override bill is not brought for a vote at the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, Jewish Home MKs will no longer take part in coalition votes.”

He said the purpose of the bill was to free the government from court-imposed restrictions that prevent it from dealing with pressing issues, such as terrorism and illegal immigration.

Bennett, along with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, another member of Jewish Home who chairs the ministerial committee, has been the main proponent of the bill, which critics say would disrupt the balance between the legislative and judicial branches. 

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (r) and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Hayut said in a statement on Monday that the Prime Minister’s Office had contacted her to set up a meeting with Netanyahu and that she was willing to accept the invitation. However, she conditioned it on delaying the ministers’ vote on the bill for at least a week.

Bennett and Shaked agreed to postpone the vote to next Sunday, which is also when Netanyahu and Shaked are scheduled to meet with Hayut and the court’s vice president, Hanan Meltzer.

The proposed legislation would allow 61 out of the Knesset’s 120 members to re-approve a law struck down by the Supreme Court, effectively giving any government the ability to quash the ruling.

The legislation would take the form of a passage added to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. With no constitution, Israel’s basic laws set the parameters of the balance of power between different branches of government.

Netanyahu and Shaked’s scheduled meeting with Hayut follows the advice of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who told the prime minister that in order for the legislation to proceed he would first have to meet with her. Mandelblit himself said he would consider supporting legislation that empowered the Knesset to restore a law ruled as illegal by the High Court only if at least 70 Knesset members voted to do so.

Hayut is expected to tell Netanyahu and Shaked that she strongly objects to court rulings being overturned with a majority of 61 MKs. The Ynet news site reported that the court would accept the legislation if it would require a two-thirds majority, or 80 MKs, but that Hayut may compromise on 75 MKs being able to overturn a ruling. Coalition partners Likud and Kulanu are reportedly prepared to require 65 MKs, while Bennett and Shaked’s Jewish Home insist that a majority of 61 MKs should be enough.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event marking the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence, with Israeli and Foreign Ambassadors at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, on April 23, 2018. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

“Our demand to legislate the version that has 61 MKs is no surprise,” Bennett tweeted Monday. “Likud is signed on an explicit coalition agreement with us. Agreements must be honored. I expect Likud’s full support this coming Sunday. We’ll bring back the correct balance between the [legislative and judicial] branches.”

The Jewish Home party has long campaigned for clipping the wings of what it regards as an overly liberal Supreme Court, and Shaked has succeeded in having several conservative candidates appointed to the top bench.

The idea of legislating to alter the balance between the judicial and executive arms of government has gathered steam lately, particularly after a recent ruling by the court blocking deportations of African migrants.

Earlier this month Netanyahu met with former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak in an apparent effort to show he is seeking middle ground on the issue, Hadashot news reported.

According to the report, the meeting with Barak, a symbol of the power of the court, was meant to underline Netanyahu’s commitment to the justice system in general and the High Court in particular.

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