The judicial reform bill supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition passed the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on Monday after weeks of mass protests.
The judicial reform bill supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition passed the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on Monday after 29 weeks of mass protests.
- The legislation passed the 120-seat Knesset with the support of all 64 members of the conservative coalition, which includes two far-right parties that had not previously served in government.
- The judicial reform package is designed to limit the power of the unelected Supreme Court, which unusually for western democracies can select its own members with little democratic input, to give the elected legislature more control.
- This has led to the odd dynamic where protesters are calling legislation that gives the democratically elected legislature more power than an unelected, anti-democratic body an “attack on Israeli democracy.”
- Israeli politics had been riven by polarization that would make American politics seem mild by comparison. Repeated parliamentary deadlocks and short-lived coalitions have forced five elections since 2019 before the Dec. 2022 elections produced the largest coalition in ten years.
- The law would remove the Supreme Court’s power to overrule decisions passed by the democratically elected government that the court deems are “unreasonable,” a nebulous standard that supporters argue has led to an imbalance of power in recent decades after the unelected court has repeatedly intervened on political matters.
- The bill’s successful passage also serves as a rebuke to President Joe Biden, who in a highly unusual move has repeatedly intervened in the internal politics of a US ally to condemn the proposed reforms.
- The New York Times covered the response from the Biden administration. The White House released another unusual statement meddling in Israeli domestic affairs, calling the bill’s passage “unfortunate” and characterizing it as only passing with “the slimmest possible majority.”
- The Washington Post reported that members of the ruling coalition have accused protesters of “blackmail” and attempting to overturn the results of a democratic election. “There is a tremendous attempt here to blackmail the elected government and bring about total chaos where those who make the decisions are not the elected officials,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tweeted.
- “The fight is happening against the backdrop of some of the worst violence in many years,” CNN observed. “The number of Palestinians, militants and civilians, killed in the occupied West Bank by Israeli forces is at its highest in nearly two decades. The same is true of Israelis and foreigners – most of them civilians – killed in Palestinian attacks.”
- The Commentary Magazine podcast summed up the controversy in three words: “Israel goes nuts.” Hosts John Podhoretz, Abe Greenwald, Christine Rosen, and Matthew Continetti were joined by journalist Liel Leibovitz to discussed “the unprecedented showdown between the duly elected democratic government of Israel and mass protestors claiming to speak for the true spirit of democracy.”
- “Biden has lobbied against Israel’s judicial reforms for months, saying in March that he hopes Netanyahu ‘walks away from it,’” the Washington Free Beacon observed. “Netanyahu, in response, suggested Biden was attempting to unduly influence Israel’s domestic affairs.”
- The New York Post noted other elements of the judicial reform package could be passed in future bills. The coalition is pushing for other reforms including granting the Knesset the ability to override the court if it strikes down laws.
© Dominic Moore, 2023