If law passes, IBA says it will challenge it in court

Protests erupt as Bar Association holds emergency meet to fight judicial overhaul

IBA head decries ‘assassination of Israeli democracy’ as former AG Mandelblit says ‘This is a coup, they won’t stop’; demonstrators at event decry lack of pro-government speakers

Israel Bar Association head Amit Becher speaks during a protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on June 24, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israel Bar Association head Amit Becher speaks during a protest against the planned judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on June 24, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Protests erupted Thursday as the Israel Bar Association held an emergency meeting to discuss the ramifications of the government proceeding with its controversial judicial overhaul.

Newly elected IBA chief Amit Becher, who ran on an anti-overhaul platform, blasted the government for advancing a bill that would eliminate courts’ ability to strike down governmental and ministerial decisions based on “reasonableness.”

“Yesterday, the Knesset Constitution Committee carried out an assassination on Israel’s democracy when it approved the law for a second and third reading,” Becher told those assembled at the Tel Aviv Museum.

“Democracy is falling and we are watching in pain as it drags down with it the economy, social cohesiveness, our international standing, and first and foremost our personal security and the preparedness of the Israel Defense Forces,” he said.

The IBA was planning to appeal to the High Court of Justice against the reasonableness law, should it pass in the Knesset.

At the conference, former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit also launched a scathing attack on the government’s moves and warned that “they will definitely not stop there.”

Mandelblit warned that the government wants to “completely destroy the independence of the judiciary, including the last line of defense of Israel’s democracy, the Supreme Court.”

“This could lead to authoritarian rule with no balances or defenses, and so it represents a complete regime coup,” Mandelblit warned.

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an emergency conference on the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul, at the Museum of Art in Tel Aviv. July 20, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

Becher was elected last month in a landslide, indicating the vast majority of IBA members supported his anti-overhaul agenda.

Nevertheless, speakers were repeatedly heckled and interrupted by government supporters, who carried signs saying “Enough with the dictatorship of the Supreme Court.”

The demonstrators were objecting to the fact that no pro-government speakers had been invited to address the meeting.

Several protesters made it onto the stage and said they planned to switch off the loudspeaker system “until it can be used by both sides.”

The second and third readings on the bill, an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary, will begin on Sunday in the Knesset plenum, and the bill is expected to be approved and passed into law on Monday or Tuesday.

The bill would ban the Supreme Court and lower courts from using the reasonableness standard to review decisions made by the government and cabinet ministers.

Proponents say the bar on the use of the doctrine is needed to halt judicial interference in government decisions, arguing that it amounts to unelected judges substituting their own judgment for that of elected officials.

Opponents argue, however, that the legislation is far too broad and will weaken the court’s ability to review decisions that harm civil rights and hinder its ability to protect the independence of senior civil servants who hold sensitive positions, such as the attorney general, police commissioner and others.

The measure will likely be the first part of the government’s plan to remake the judiciary to pass into law, and street protests have ratcheted up as it has moved toward its final votes before passage into law. Hundreds of activists are currently marching from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with plans to demonstrate outside parliament as the vote takes place. Wednesday also saw a warning strike from the Israel Medical Association. Meanwhile, hundreds of military reservists have joined a growing movement of volunteers refusing to serve, in protest of the overhaul.

Israeli military reservists sign a declaration of refusal to report for duty to protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The Bar Association itself is a target of the overhaul, particularly due to its role in choosing two representatives to sit on the Judicial Selection Committee.

Following Becher’s election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party started preparations to advance a bill to strip the IBA of much of its authority. Sponsored by Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky, the bill would take away the Bar Association’s authority to license lawyers, and possibly its two seats on the nine-member committee entrusted with picking Israel’s judges.

The 70-odd sections of the bill would severely curtail the bar association’s powers, and transfer some of its most significant authorities to newly created offices.

Becher has warned that the IBA could paralyze the legal system if it decides to take action against the government.

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