Top minister: Calling elections over High Court bypass bill would be ‘justified’

Coalition leaders set to discuss proposal aimed at limiting power of judiciary; in confrontation with Netanyahu, Kulanu party has vowed to oppose legislation

Public  Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, February 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, February 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Public Security Ministry Gilad Erdan on Sunday suggested early elections could be nigh if coalition leaders refused to support a controversial bill that would limit the High Court of Justice’s powers to veto laws passed by the Knesset.

The bill, backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was scheduled for debate by leaders of coalition parties later in the day. If passed, it would effectively downgrade High Court decisions on the unconstitutionality of Knesset legislation to mere recommendations.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who objects to any tampering with the current relationship between Israel’s legislative and judiciary branches, will also participate in the meeting to explain his opposition.

Erdan, a leading figure in the Likud party led by Netanyahu, told Army Radio in an interview that there is a “serious problem,” that the “balance between [the judiciary and legislative] authorities has been upset,” and that the right of the public to elect its leaders to govern has been undermined by a series of High Court rulings over the past year.

“As a nationalist camp that was chosen many times to lead the country it is our duty to correct and… to make a change in this area, in the balance between ruling authorities. If there is a subject on which it is justified to go to elections, this is the subject,” Erdan told the radio station.

“In recent years they [the High Court] have tied the hands of the government on many matters related to the state and defense, and it makes it very difficult to govern the country,” Erdan added. “Therefore I hope we will not compromise or be flexible and we will make the necessary change that must be made,” Erdan added.

Netanyahu backed the sweeping court supercession bill to downgrade the High Court after the court’s recent ruling blocking deportations of African migrants and its decisions that may have played a role in scuttling a deportation deal with Rwanda.

Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon, the finance minister, is firmly against the supercession bill and has said repeatedly he would not lend his party’s votes to weakening the High Court.

Kahlon has said, however, that he would support a supercession clause limited to the narrow confines of a deportation bill, as he backs a more aggressive deportation policy for asylum seekers.

Speaking to Channel 10, Economy Minister Eli Cohen, also of the coalition Kulanu party, said “the High Court has forgotten the principle of separation of authorities, when time and again it harms government policy to go ahead and remove the migrants from Israel.”

Under the terms of its coalition agreement with Netanyahu, the 10-seat Kulanu party is not required to vote with the government on the bypass law, making it unlikely to pass.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon speaks during a ceremony in southern Israel, April 12, 2018. (Flash90)

Netanyahu is guaranteed to have the support of coalition partners the nationalist-Orthodox Jewish Home party which has long sought to limit the High Court’s power to strike down Knesset legislation.

The government this week was seeking to clinch a final deal to deport tens of thousands of African migrants in Israel, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, to Uganda. It faces a court deadline that expires Sunday to either forcibly deport the African asylum seekers or allow the release of all those currently jailed for refusing deportation.

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