Panning overhaul, Economist cartoon shows PM taking club to ‘judicial independence’

Caricature in print edition of prominent UK weekly underscores extent of global dismay over Netanyahu government’s plan to weaken courts

The Economist's February 17, 2023, cartoon criticizing Israel's judicial overhaul plans. (Economist/used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
The Economist's February 17, 2023, cartoon criticizing Israel's judicial overhaul plans. (Economist/used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A cartoon in this week’s print edition of The Economist ridiculed the plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judiciary, with the British weekly becoming the latest major news outlet to come out against the effort to curb the powers of Israel’s courts.

The caricature features a man off to the side declaring, “All those who believe an independent judiciary is essential to democracy raise your hands.” A blindfolded Lady Justice grasping a sword raises her other hand, in which she holds the scales of justice, as Netanyahu is shown wielding a club in the air ready to strike her.

The drawing from The Economist’s editorial cartoonist Kevin Kallaugher is featured on page 10 of the weekly edition released Thursday. The magazine also includes an editorial headlined, “Israel’s proposed legal reforms are a dreadful answer to a real problem,” which further assails the Netanyahu government’s plans.

The coalition has been pushing a dramatic legislative package that would increase government control over the judiciary, allowing it to override court decisions with the slimmest majority and give it full power over judicial appointments.

The plan’s backers argue that the judicial branch has too much power and should not be able to strike down decisions backed by the cabinet and the Knesset, which represent the will of the majority. Supporters argue that the proposals will restore what they view as a balance between the branches of government and that claims the overhaul will harm the economy are baseless and simply meant to sew hysteria since the proposals will lead to less judicial interference in Israeli business activity.

Critics, who have taken to the streets in the hundreds of thousands throughout the country, say the overhaul will remove the judiciary’s role as a check on the power of the ruling majority and enable assaults on human rights. They have also warned that the move would deter foreign investment and weaken the economy.

Israelis wave flags during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 13, 2023 (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Banking insiders reportedly estimate that around $4 billion has already been moved out of Israel in recent weeks as individuals and businesses seek to protect their wealth in an increasingly uncertain political and economic climate.

Earlier this week, the coalition-controlled Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee advanced the first piece of judicial overhaul legislation for its first reading in the Knesset plenum.

The specific bill would give the government control over all judicial appointments and bar the High Court from striking down quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

The legislation changes the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee and gives the government and coalition five of the panel’s nine members, with a simple majority needed to make appointments.

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