Netanyahu says Jewish Home ‘burying’ Supreme Court override bill

Coalition leaders suggest compromise in the offing, after sparring over proposal to supersede judges’ ability to strike down Knesset legislation

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the Jewish Home party Monday, for pushing a bill that would severely limit the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down legislation on constitutional grounds, despite disagreement among coalition partners threatening to topple the proposal.

“At the moment Jewish Home is pushing the override clause into the garbage can,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud faction, according an MK present at the weekly meeting of lawmakers, referring to the measure, which would allow lawmakers to override the court.

“The only way to pass the override clause is by reaching agreements within the coalition,” the prime minister said. “Anyone who pushes without arriving at agreements is burying the override clause.”

Ministers on Sunday authorized the bill, which would give a vote by 61 or more of the Knesset’s 120 MKs the ability to overturn Supreme Court decisions to strike down Knesset legislation as unconstitutional. But the bill, in its current form, appears unlikely to become law, with the center-right Kulanu party vowing to oppose it in the Knesset.

After its chairman publicly sparred with Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon earlier in the day, the Jewish Home party hit back at Netanyahu’s claims, saying the proposal had been pushed off long enough.

“The override clause has been dragged out for three years under all sorts of pretexts,” a statement released by the party said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning, Netanyahu said that he would have preferred to further delay the bill in order to reach agreement among all coalition parties, but would nonetheless allow the vote to take place and not use Likud’s veto to block it.

Jewish Home officials, suspicious that Netanyahu was seeking to quietly torpedo the initiative, turned down his request to delay the vote another week with leader Naftali Bennett threatening to hold up all coalition-sponsored legislation if the initiative didn’t come to a vote.

But Jewish Home’s Monday statement appeared to leave open an option for compromise, including raising the number of MKs that would be needed in order to re-enshrine a law struck down by the court on constitutional grounds.

“We announce in advance that any override bill that receives the endorsement of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Finance Minister Kahlon and the rest of the coalition parties will also be acceptable to the Jewish Home faction.”

Jewish Home party chair Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting in the Israeli parliament on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Speaking at his weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, Bennett said he was willing to wait a few more days for the  to be brought before the Knesset, but will not accept it being shelved indefinitely.

Bennett said that the bill was the only option on the table to solve “the worsening problem” of African asylum seekers living in Israel.

The legislation comes amid efforts by right-wing lawmakers to limit the court’s power after judges have repeatedly stymied the government’s bids to imprison and deport African asylum seekers from the country without examining their asylum requests or, according to the court, sufficiently ascertaining the safety of the countries to which they were to be deported, as Israel is required to do under international treaties and Israeli law.

Limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn Knesset legislation would allow the coalition to pass a law that would legalize the deportations.

“I say to the prime minister and Kahlon — if you have a better solution than ours, put it forward. But without that, we implore you to continue with this law. We can wait a few more days, but not longer.”

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon leads a faction meeting in the Israeli parliament on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In rare comments to the press at the opening of his own faction’s weekly meeting, Kahlon fumed Bennett’s suggestion that he was perpetuating the problem of the African immigrants by blocking the bill.

“We need to stop the spin,” he said. “We are in favor or removing the infiltrators from the country. I have budgeted tens of thousands of shekels in the past year to deal with the problem of the infiltrators.”

But Kahlon claimed that the current version of the bill will not do that.

“This bill will do nothing, and they know it,” he said of the Jewish Home, without providing an explanation as to why the bill would fall short. “That is why they don’t want the bill to be brought before the Knesset plenum this week. They know it does nothing.”

Kahlon did however say he would support “a form of ‘supercession law’ to “remove the infiltrators,” but stressed that the current bill goes too far.

“The Kulanu party will not allow extremist factions to drag the State of Israel into a corner,” he said. “I have said that we need to sit together to reach an agreement. But not this way. We will solve the problem of the infiltrators, not through underhandedness and not by damaging Israel.”

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