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Coalition moves to restart courts overhaul

Bill to prevent justices from ruling on 'reasonableness' of decisions

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 18. Photo: Amit Shabi/Pool
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on June 18. Photo: Amit Shabi/Pool

(Times of Israel) – Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, the chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice committee, made public on Tuesday the text of a bill that would severely limit judicial review of government decisions.

According to the text of the bill – presented as an amendment to the existing Basic Law: The Judiciary – the courts, including the High Court of Justice, would no longer be able to even hold hearings over the reasonableness of a decision, or invalidate decisions made by the prime minister, the cabinet, ministers, or other elected officials merely based on their “reasonableness”.

The legislation was set to come before a hearing of the committee on Wednesday, but the coalition announced late on Tuesday that it was delaying the discussion in the wake of the deadly terror attack at the Eli settlement. The coalition said this week that it wants to pass the amendment into law within the next six weeks, before the Knesset breaks for summer recess at the end of July.

It comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition decided on Monday to reignite its controversial plan to shake up Israel’s judiciary.

Legislation to take political control of judicial appointments – the core and most controversial element of the overhaul – will be scheduled for the winter session, which opens in October, according to several coalition sources. The coalition is expected to withdraw the bill it was about to enact in late March, which would give the governing majority near-absolute control of appointments throughout the judicial hierarchy, and prepare a fresh draft with as-yet unspecified changes.

The coalition leaders’ decision likely sounds a death knell for the stalled talks hosted by President Isaac Herzog to work towards a consensus solution.

Moments before coalition heads ended their Monday afternoon meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, opposition leaders said they would not return to the compromise negotiations if the coalition went through with Netanyahu’s promise a day earlier to unilaterally legislate judicial changes.

On Tuesday, far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich branded Herzog a “leftist” charging that the President was therefore unable to act as an unbiased mediator in talks for a potential compromise on judicial reform.

“I remind you that the President published his outline [for judicial reform] unilaterally. He is 100 per cent aligned with the left. The president is a leftist, and unfortunately he is failing to be a fair mediator,” Smotrich told ultra-Orthodox radio station Kol BaRama, referring to Herzog’s quickly rejected proposal made in March, ahead of the start of the compromise talks overseen by the President.

“I thought that going into the talks at the President’s Residence was not democratically correct – there is a Knesset. The very fact that they took the discussion out of the parliament is an undemocratic decision. At the same time, we came with an open mind but found that there was no partner,” he said.

MK Benny Gantz, leader of the centre-right National Unity opposition party, responded that Herzog was working to prevent the “destruction of democracy” that Smotrich was promoting with the overhaul.

“The President of the country is working night and day to prevent the destruction of democracy, the rift in the nation and severe damage to Israel’s economy,” Gantz said in a statement.

“The ministers of the government would do well to stop the severe harm to the citizens of Israel that they are inflicting in the regime coup, instead of blaming those who are doing everything to prevent it.”

On Monday, the White House said it opposed the renewed push to advance judicial reforms without support from across the aisle.

“Ultimately, it is up to Israelis to find the best path forward,” the White House statement added. “But as close friends of Israel, we urge them to reach a compromise with the broadest possible base of popular support.”

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