The UN human rights chief on Thursday urged the Israeli government to “heed the calls” of anti-overhaul protesters to preserve civil rights and maintain checks on power.
In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said that he has been “closely following developments” in Israel in recent months amid the fierce debate over the coalition’s plan to radically overhaul the judiciary.
The growing movement of mass protests “demonstrates the extent of public disquiet at the extent of fundamental legislative changes,” wrote Turk. He stressed the importance of allowing the High Court to hear petitions against the just-passed reasonableness law “according to due process of law, and free from political pressure or interference from any other quarter.”
The High Court said Wednesday that it was setting a hearing date for September to weigh the seven petitions already lodged with the court against the reasonableness law, which prohibits judicial review of the “reasonableness” of governmental and ministerial decisions.
In addition, Turk said he was urging “those in power to heed the calls of the people in this movement — people who have put their trust in the enduring value of an independent judiciary to effectively hold the other branches of Government to fundamental legal standards and – ultimately — protect the rights of all people.”
For the past seven months, protesters have been taking to the streets to express their opposition to the government’s slate of planned legislation to greatly expand political control at the expense of the judiciary.
In February, Turk urged the government to pause its plans, warning that the proposals “would drastically undermine the ability of the judiciary to vindicate individual rights and to uphold the rule of law as an effective institutional check on executive and legislative power.” He added that the planned changes “risk weakening human rights protections for all, but especially the most vulnerable communities and groups.”
At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Turk’s concerns, calling the UN Human Rights Council “a biased and ineffective body.”
Netanyahu blasted his February comments as an “absurdity” and insisted that his government’s proposals to weaken the Supreme Court “will only strengthen democracy in Israel.”
Protesters plan to once again take to the streets on Thursday evening in Tel Aviv and elsewhere to rally against the government’s legislative plans.
Thursday will mark the first day of mass protests since raucous rallies Monday night following the government’s passage of the “reasonableness law,” which limits judicial review of governmental and ministerial decisions. The demonstrations were met with an unprecedented show of force by cops, sparking accusations of police brutality and excessive use of force.
Some members of the coalition have called on the government to push ahead with the rest of its judicial overhaul plans after the reasonableness law was passed this week, though Netanyahu has said he will seek to reach a broad consensus on the other elements of the proposal.