UN’s Volker Turk fears Israel's judicial overhaul would undermine human rights

Israeli Foreign Minister responds, saying Israel will not accept 'moral preaching'

The Netanyahu government's judicial reform bill has led to mass protests such as this rally in Jerusalem. AFP
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The UN's human rights chief on Tuesday voiced concern that the proposed overhaul of Israel's legal system could "drastically undermine" the ability of the judiciary to uphold human rights and the rule of law.

Israel's parliament is pushing ahead with changes promoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's religious-nationalist government, which it says are needed to rein in activist judges who intervene in politics.

The proposed reforms, which have sparked mass protests, could increase the government's sway in choosing judges and set limits on the Supreme Court's ability to strike down legislation.

"Breaking from decades of settled practice, such a law would drastically undermine the ability of the judiciary to vindicate individual rights and to uphold the rule of law as an effective institutional check on executive and legislative power," said Volker Turk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He said the changes would create greater political influence over the judicial selection system.

In response to Mr Turk's comments, Israel's Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said: "We will not accept moral preaching from those who ignore blatant human rights violations in Syria, Iran, the Palestinian Authority, and Gaza, and attack Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, more than any other country."

Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, has said a previous statement from Mr Turk showed prejudice.

Mr Turk, who became High Commissioner in October, had this month called on Israel to ensure respect of international rights law after his office documented a record 151 killings of Palestinians by security forces last year.

Updated: February 22, 2023, 8:38 AM