Will Court Decision Plunge Israel into Unprecedented Crisis?

Sep 10, 2023 4:54 pm | Ticker, Virtual Jerusalem

For a country without a constitution, Israel faces a unique judicial crisis this week, one that it has never encountered in its history.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with two fellow ministers, has emphasized the utmost importance of respecting High Court of Justice decisions. This comes ahead of an impending hearing centered on the inaugural legislation introduced in the coalition’s judicial revamp.

These declarations of allegiance to the top court’s decisions emerged in the aftermath of remarks made by Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana. Last week, he hinted at the coalition’s potential refusal to honor court rulings. He insinuated that an annulment of the ‘reasonableness’ law by the court could lead the nation to an unforeseen crisis. This sentiment was further propagated by Prime Minister Netanyahu who showcased Ohana’s comments on social platforms.

While being interviewed prior to a cabinet meeting, ministers were quizzed about their stance on the High Court’s decisions. Gallant articulated his unwavering support, highlighting Israel’s commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law. His sentiment was reiterated by Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel and Interior and Health Minister Moshe Arbel, who both emphasized the imperative of abiding by the High Court’s rulings.

However, not all ministers echoed this sentiment. Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf hinted at a collective decision-making approach, should the law be overturned. Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi shifted the spotlight to the High Court judges, questioning their commitment to Israel’s democracy. Minister May Golan went a step further, suggesting that certain High Court decisions might not warrant respect.

Opposition figures have lauded ministers Gallant, Gamliel, and Arbel for their endorsement of High Court rulings. Benny Gantz, National Unity party chief, highlighted the gravity of the current discourse, emphasizing the fundamental duty to respect High Court decisions and prevent any looming constitutional crisis.

In a separate note, PM Netanyahu chose not to address the upcoming hearing in his opening comments for the meeting. Instead, he voiced his aspiration for extensive public support for further changes to the judiciary.

Elsewhere, protests against the proposed judicial reforms continue to gain momentum. Kaplan Force, a leading protest group, has openly challenged PM Netanyahu’s recent accusations of incitement.

As tensions rise, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has urged both the coalition and opposition to reach a consensus, stressing the necessity of unity among the Israeli people.

The impending hearing will focus on the ‘reasonableness’ law, enacted in July. The legislation restricts the courts from evaluating government actions based on the judicial measure of reasonableness. This measure previously allowed courts to deem a decision invalid if it failed to consider significant elements or took into account irrelevant ones. Critics believe this could jeopardize the autonomy of major law enforcement institutions. However, advocates argue that the law is crucial to prevent the High Court from imposing its views on governmental affairs.

This law is the sole element of the coalition’s extensive judicial reform agenda that has been ratified by the Knesset thus far. The radical reform proposal has met significant resistance from both protest groups and opposition parties.

Levin Cites Anti-Reform Sign as Revealing Anti-Democratic Intentions of Protesters

In the evolving dialogue about High Court decisions in Israel, Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s stance has been particularly notable. As the key figure behind the judicial overhaul, Levin’s comments on the potential intervention of the court in the legislative process have drawn significant attention.

He called attention to a huge banner that epitomized where the problem with the protest movement lies. The banner read “Beit Hamishpat Elyon” — dropping the letter “hay” of the name for the High Court, meaning instead that “The Court is Supreme.”

Levin had stated in no uncertain terms that if the justices were to reject the proposed changes to the Judicial Selection Committee, such a move would be unacceptable. Describing potential court interference as “completely unjustified,” he stressed that it would signify crossing a major boundary. Levin’s words carried a tone of defiance and unyielding adherence to his vision of the legislative process.

This contentious debate emerges from the backdrop of a wider discourse on the role and power of the judiciary in Israel. While some ministers and leaders argue for the utmost respect and adherence to High Court decisions, others, including Levin, are more resistant, suggesting that the court may be overstepping its bounds.

The dispute isn’t just about one law or decision. It’s a reflection of deeper questions about the role of the judiciary in a democratic nation, the balance between different branches of government, and the nature of checks and balances.

Levin’s strong opposition to potential High Court interference underscores the challenges in navigating these questions. As the debate unfolds, the country watches closely, understanding that the outcomes will shape the future of Israel’s democratic process and institutions.


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