The right-wing government majority in the Israeli parliament has approved further parts of the controversial judicial reform at first reading. A majority of members of the Knesset initially approved a provision that would prevent Israel's Supreme Court from preventing the government from appointing ministers. Later, another bill cleared the first hurdle, which would make it much more difficult for the court to overturn laws passed by parliament.
The vote was once again accompanied by loud protests within the Knesset. MPs shouted "gang of crooks" in the direction of the governing majority before some of them were expelled from the chamber. Tens of thousands of Israelis have been taking to the streets for weeks against the judicial reform announced by Benjamin Netanyahu's government at the beginning of January. Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, returned to power at the end of December with the help of a right-wing religious alliance.
An attack on the rule of law?
The judicial reform is a central project of the most right-wing government coalition in Israel's history, in which ultra-Orthodox and far-right parties are involved. The head of government presents the reform as necessary to restore the balance in the separation of powers.
According to Netanyahu's argument, the judiciary currently has too much power in Israel. Critics, on the other hand, see this as an attack on the rule of law. UN Human Rights Commissioner Volker Türk had expressed concern about human rights and the rule of law in Israel, and President Isaac Herzog also expressed his concern.
Power of the Supreme Court Curtailed
The part of the reform approved on Wednesday at first reading, which would deprive the Supreme Court of the ability to prevent ministerial appointments, is referred to in Israel as the "Deri 2" law – after the head of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, Arje Deri, whom Netanyahu had originally wanted to appoint as health and interior minister.
However, the Supreme Court annulled Deri's appointment to the cabinet post in January because he had been convicted of tax evasion. Netanyahu initially bowed to the verdict, but left Deri's post vacant. The new regulation now sought could pave the way for Deri to the ministerial office.
The amendment to overturn laws by the Supreme Court, also introduced at first reading, would require a unanimous decision by all 15 judges of the Supreme Court in the future. In addition, a law could only be blocked if it expressly violates one of the so-called Basic Laws, which have quasi-constitutional status.
Israel has no constitution. However, the Supreme Court can repeal laws passed by parliament if it considers them discriminatory. This would be made much more difficult by the reform – especially as it would allow MEPs to override such a decision of the court by simple majority.
Before the judicial reform enters into force, its components still have to be adopted by the Knesset in second and third readings.