Netanyahu seeks to limit left-wing groups’ access to High Court — report

Proposed legislation would curtail ability of advocacy NGOs to appeal against the state or IDF on behalf of Palestinians

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 11, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 11, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told top cabinet ministers on Sunday that he was considering legislation to limit access to the High Court of Justice.

The legislation could mean curtailing the ability of many left-wing advocacy groups to appeal to the court against the state and the IDF on behalf of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Walla news site reported.

Netanyahu reportedly declared his intention at the weekly meeting of the party leaders in his six-party coalition. The ministers were said to discuss a bill by Likud MK Miki Zohar that seeks to limit standing before the High Court only to those directly affected by any particular state action.

Israel’s High Court of Justice is a separate institution to its Supreme Court, though they are made up of the same 15 justices. While the Supreme Court is an appeals court for cases moving up from the magistrate and district court levels, the High Court allows for direct appeals against any state action. NGOs often appeal against legislation, regulatory agencies or, in the cases targeted by the new bill, Israeli policies or actions in the West Bank.

Zohar’s bill to place limits on the very broad range of individuals and groups that are permitted to file High Court appeals on any particular matter was first brought to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in May, but ministers delayed voting on it due to opposition from some coalition members and Knesset and Justice Ministry legal officials.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit warned last month that the bill would “harm the Supreme Court and the rule of law, especially in difficult cases and in [cases involving] weaker populations.”

The High Court mechanism has long been a target for right-wing complaints of overreach and legislative attempts to weaken the broad authority it has claimed over the years. The issue came to a head with the evacuation last February of the illegal Amona outpost in the northern West Bank, which was forced on the state by multiple High Court rulings that concluded that the land was privately owned by Palestinians and had been illegally seized by the Israeli residents.

Zohar’s bill is co-signed by coalition chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) and Jewish Home lawmakers Moti Yogev and Betzalel Smotrich (Jewish Home).

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of the pro-settlements Jewish Home, have said they would support the bill, according to Walla. But Shaked warned that it would “not be effective,” as only 8% of appeals are carried out by NGOs, and the justices could offset any limits to standing by giving a broader interpretation to the personal connection required of any petition.

Bitan, who attended the meeting, reportedly insisted that the bill could be couched in an “effective” way that would prevent the possibility of widening the definition of personal connection to a petition.

Netanyahu asked for a few days’ reprieve in advancing the bill in order to examine the issue more carefully, the report said.

At the same meeting, Netanyahu reportedly told the coalition party leaders that he would seek new restrictions on NGOs receiving funding from foreign governments.

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