Israel's Netanyahu and parliament want more sway over Supreme Court

Judges will not be able to override amendments to Israel's 'basic laws'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposals have caused widespread concern. Bloomberg
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of parliament are set to command more control over the country's Supreme Court as part of proposed judicial reforms.

Mr Netanyahu is to reorder judge selection panels to grant him more sway over appointments to Israel's top court, according to draft legislation released by Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Wednesday.

The proposals were blasted by former prime minister and opposition leader Yair Lapid as “radical regime change” and have caused widespread concern that the new government will introduce a series of changes entrenching religious law and deepening division with minority groups.

“I am determined to advance the reform and no threat will deter me,” Mr Levin told the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday, before details of the draft were leaked to Israeli media.

“The time has come to restore democracy.”

Former top legal officials spoke out on Thursday against the proposed sweeping reforms.

Seven former attorney generals, three of whom served under Mr Netanyahu, signed a letter of protest along with four other former senior legal officials.

The letter, published in Israeli media, denounced the proposed changes as destructive to the country’s legal system, calling on the government to scrap the measures and "prevent the serious harm to the justice system and the rule of law".

Under the current system, Supreme Court judges are selected by nine people — three Supreme Court justices, two cabinet ministers, two parliamentarians and two lawyers. A majority of at least seven votes are required to approve an appointment.

The drafted reforms would see the panel expanded to 11 members and only need a majority of six to pass an appointment, while the threshold to remove a judge would also be increased.

With seven of the members envisaged by Mr Levin being aligned with or brought in by the government, Mr Netanyahu and his allies would potentially be ensured an automatic majority.

The proposed panel would include three coalition lawmakers, three cabinet ministers and two “public figures”, but only one lawyer.

Mr Netanyahu, who still faces court proceedings for alleged corruption, has ushered in Israel's most right-wing government after securing a comeback to power in November.

His alliance with ultra-right and religious parties has already divided Israel, where protests have been held against the new cabinet and proposed laws to increase Orthodox influence on Israel's secular majority.

Several government ministers were previously banned from parliament for inciting racism and fraud convictions, and are vocal proponents of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Another area that has raised particular concern is the “override clause” which would allow the Knesset to pass legislation that contradicts Israel's basic laws, which act in place of a constitution, and prevent the Supreme Court from nullifying such amendments.

It would also increase the threshold to nullify other laws from eight judges to a 12-judge majority.

The radical stance of the new government will be felt across the Green Line in the West Bank, which suffered its bloodiest year in almost two decades last year.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited Al Aqsa mosque earlier in January, prompting outrage from across the region, including Jordan, the custodian of the city's holy sites.

On Thursday, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian in a dawn raid in Qalandiya, the Palestinian Wafa news agency reported.

It said it was the third death in 24 hours.

Updated: January 13, 2023, 6:50 AM