Ministers slam High Court for delaying recusal law; one calls decision ‘null and void’

Decision to push off implementation of bill shielding PM from being ordered to recuse himself from office highlights ‘urgent need’ for judicial reform, says justice minister

The High Court of Justice hears petitions against the government's incapacitation law, September 28, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
The High Court of Justice hears petitions against the government's incapacitation law, September 28, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet lashed out at the High Court of Justice for allegedly exceeding its authority and harming the nation on Wednesday evening, after it issued a six-to-five ruling postponing the implementation of the government’s recusal law.

The ruling on the law, meant to shield Netanyahu from being ordered to recuse himself from office, is “null and void,” as is Monday’s decision to strike down legislation barring courts from evaluating government decisions on the basis of the judicial standard of reasonableness, claimed Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi.

Both rulings “contradict Basic Laws enacted democratically by an elected parliament” and thus have no validity, he argued.

The court ruled that the recusal law, an amendment to the quasi-constitutional Basic Law: The Government, will take effect at the beginning of the next Knesset term after the next national elections are held.

Though it did not strike it down, the court said in the ruling that the recusal or incapacitation law was “clearly a personal amendment” and therefore constituted an improper use of the Knesset’s power to pass and amend Basic Laws.

“The decision of the justices of the High Court of Justice to issue judgments that are highly disputed even among themselves, while our soldiers are sacrificing their lives at the front, is an act that harms the unity of the people,” declared Justice Minister Yariv Levin, adding that “a democratically elected prime minister is replaced via the ballot box and not via a verdict.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The hasty and casual repeal of the Knesset legislation is further proof of the urgent need for a real balance between the branches of government,” he said. “It is impossible to prevent the people from exercising their will in a proper democracy and to overturn the decisions of their representatives again and again.”

“It is very unfortunate that this is how the judges of the Supreme Court behave at this time,” commented Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, accusing the court of splitting the people at a time when Israelis are putting aside their differences to fight “shoulder to shoulder.”

“The court has no authority to discuss Basic Laws, not to reject their applicability, certainly not to disqualify them and not even to approve them,” declared the Movement for Governability and Democracy, a conservative group established by MK Simcha Rothman, one of the architect’s of the hard-right government’s highly controversial judicial overhaul plan.

During a hearing last September, opponents of the recusal law argued that it was designed, among other things, to shield Netanyahu from the consequences of possibly violating a conflict of interest agreement he signed in 2020 to allow him to serve as premier while on trial for corruption charges. Under that deal, Netanyahu committed not to involve himself in judicial matters that could affect his ongoing trial.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, one of the petitioners against the law, welcomed Wednesday’s ruling, calling it “an important victory for the Israeli public.”

Eliad Shraga, head of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, addresses the High Court of Justice during a hearing on the recusal law, September 28, 2023. (Screenshot: YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“Basic Laws are not putty in the hands of the prime minister, which he can change overnight,” the group argued.

“The prime minister, who is facing serious criminal proceedings in which he is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different cases, cannot create a golden cage for himself without any possibility of him being declared unfit for office if he were to intervene as prime minister in his own criminal affairs.”

MK Oded Forer of the Yisrael Beytenu opposition party, who had also submitted a petition against the law, said in a statement: “I welcome the fact that the court accepted the petition of Yisrael Beytenu and determined that the law will only apply from the next Knesset, thereby preventing absurd situations.”

“There will be enough time to argue about the legal quibbles,” but “for now we will continue to work together, shoulder to shoulder, in order to defeat our enemy from the north and the south,” he said.

“Netanyahu’s coalition dragged the State of Israel into an unprecedented constitutional crisis, partly due to personal considerations of the prime minister,” declared Labor MK Gilad Kariv in a post on social network X.

“Faced with the coalition’s unprecedented measures that undermined basic democratic principles, the Supreme Court also required unprecedented rulings in order to protect democracy and moral purity.”

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