Pro-overhaul protests expected at judges' homes and court

Security for justices said boosted ahead of high-stakes judicial overhaul hearing

Protection upped for 15 justices who will hear petitions against ‘reasonableness’ law; some judges reportedly spending the night away from home as precaution

President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut and Supreme Court justices are seen during a court hearing on August 3, 2023.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut and Supreme Court justices are seen during a court hearing on August 3, 2023.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Security for all 15 Supreme Court judges was bolstered on Monday ahead of a highly charged hearing the following day that could set up an unprecedented clash between the court and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over its planned overhaul of the judiciary, Hebrew media reported

The type of bolstered security was not detailed.

Israel Police reportedly increased security on the basis of intelligence that protesters may try to block the judges from traveling to Jerusalem for the court session, Channel 13 news reported. Some judges were spending the night away from home as a precaution against difficulties in reaching the Supreme Court building in the capital on Tuesday, the channel said.

Political tensions have flared ahead of the court hearing, in which — for the first time — the full panel of 15 judges will hear petitions against the reasonableness law curbing the top court’s power to exercise judicial review over government decisions and appointments. Significantly, the law is an amendment to one of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws and proponents of the legislation, passed in July, argue that the court has no right of judicial review over such laws.

Opponents say the law, which curtails the court’s ability to judge government decisions based on a doctrine of reasonableness, severely harms Israel’s democracy.

Tuesday’s hearing will see both sides argue their case before the 15 judges. No ruling is expected for several weeks or possibly months, but the session will be closely watched in Israel, with the justices’ questions offering a hint of what direction they may be leaning.

On the eve of the hearing, tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied against the government’s plans in a show of support to the judicial system outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.

Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system and in support of the Supreme Court, in Jerusalem, September 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

In addition to the increased protection for the justices ahead of the hearing, there will also be tight security on Tuesday at the court building as another precaution against disruption, Channel 13 reported.

Supporters of the hardline coalition’s judicial overhaul are planning to demonstrate outside the judges’ homes early Tuesday morning, Channel 12 said.

Police were also preparing for the possibility that spontaneous rallies will break out outside the Supreme Court building and at the official Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem during the hearing, which is expected to start at 9 a.m. and last into the afternoon.

A view of the Supreme Court and the Knesset in Jerusalem, September 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Begin Boulevard, a major dual-carriage way that connects the north and south of the capital to its main entrance, is also considered a possible target for disruption by protesters — from either side of the dispute — similar to activities in Tel Aviv where anti-government rallies have for months routinely blocked the Ayalon Highway that runs through the city, Channel 12 reported.

Police are also concerned that demonstrators from the opposing camps could clash with each other in the capital.

On Monday evening, dozens of anti-overhaul protesters briefly blocked Begin Boulevard but were cleared from the road by police.

Netanyahu and other members of his government have been noncommittal on whether they will respect a High Court ruling against the reasonableness law, with several suggesting they would not, while three ministers said Sunday that decisions by the court must be adhered to.

The law is the only component of the coalition’s broader judicial overhaul program that has been passed by the Knesset so far. It prohibits the courts from reviewing government action using the judicial standard of reasonableness, whereby it can determine that a decision was invalid because it was made without properly assessing key considerations, or while using improper considerations.

Right-wing Israelis attend a rally in support of the government’s judicial overhaul, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on September 7, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Like other parts of the radical reform agenda, it has faced massive opposition from protest groups and opposition parties.

Opponents of the law argue that it could potentially undermine the independence of senior law enforcement agencies, since without the reasonableness standard, it will be difficult to challenge arbitrary dismissals of officials.

Overhaul supporters have argued that the law is necessary to stop the High Court from asserting its own worldview on government decisions and actions, and have said that the dismissal of senior law enforcement officials will still be subject to other tools in administrative law.

Most Popular
read more: