Yair Netanyahu, increasingly seen as an adviser and unofficial spokesman for his father, Benjamin Netanyahu, slammed Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut on Tuesday for allegedly implying a comparison between the prime minister and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Hayut delivered a speech earlier in the day at a conference in the German city of Nuremberg that claimed the Nazi rise to power demonstrated that democratic institutions were fragile, and that judicial independence “is one of the most important guarantees that the individual has an address to turn to to protect their rights.”
The speech came amid reports that the prime minister was advancing a bill that would enable the Knesset and cabinet to overrule the court’s administrative rulings, allowing the political echelon to pass any law or decision previously struck down by the court. The prime minister has criticized those reported as inaccurate.
Hayut, referring to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, said that, in the very city where she was speaking, “law and justice reached one of the lowest points in human history,” in the country that had “one of the most progressive constitutions protecting human rights and liberties — the Weimar Constitution.”
As proof that institutions protecting democracy could not “withstand every attack,” Hayut cited a 1933 editorial in a German Jewish newspaper that argued that Adolf Hitler and his newly elected Nazi party wouldn’t be able to carry out their stated plans due to the country’s checks and balances on government power.
“One of the universal lessons we should learn from the historical events I mentioned is that judicial independence, on the institutional and personal level, is one of the most important guarantees that the individual has an address to turn to to protect their rights,” she said.
“The safeguarding of that principle and judges’ independence is therefore one of the cornerstones of every democratic regime,” Hayut continued.
The speech drew criticism from right-wing politicians and pundits.
“Did I miss something, or does the chief justice believe that the prime minister of Israel is Hitler in the late 1920s?” demanded the younger Netanyahu in a Tuesday Twitter post.
Likud MK Miki Zohar also shared Hayut’s speech, saying, “The independence of the Knesset is also among the cornerstones of democracy.”
Hayut’s comments were a “warping of history,” according to the Movement for Governance and Democracy, a right-wing activist group critical of the Israeli Supreme Court’s powers.
“The court in Germany before the rise of the Nazis to power had the power to cancel laws, and did so. But it was unable to prevent and may have even abetted the Nazi rise.”
The group added: “The attempt to compare constitutional [changes accepted] all over the world to the darkest periods in history is contemptible and unacceptable, especially when it comes from the chief justice of the Jewish state.”
In her speech, Hayut also weighed in explicitly on the debate within Israel, turning to the quasi-constitutional 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, the main legislation protecting human rights in Israel.
“In order for the provisions of this Basic Law to be fulfilled in practice and receive adequate protection, judicial review is needed. And for 25 years, the Supreme Court of Israel has indeed been conducting judicial review of the validity of laws, out of the view that human dignity is the primary right, from which most human rights are derived,” Hayut said.
The debate over the court was sparked following the reports, which said that Netanyahu planned to use his newfound political strength in the wake of the April 9 elections to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution as long as he remains prime minister, or seek to utilize existing immunity provisions for the same purpose, while enacting legislation that would limit the Supreme Court’s judicial review powers in order to prevent the court from overturning that immunity.
In a Facebook post on Monday evening, Netanyahu denied the reports of a link between judicial reform proposals and his corruption cases, saying he has always supported “a strong and independent court — but that does not mean an all-powerful court.”
He added: “Misleading leaks and distorted commentary published by the media include proposals that are untrue. All this is being done to sow fear and prevent any changes, in an attempt to block the restoration of balance between the branches [of government].”