In response to the proposed reform of Israel’s judicial system, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk Tuesday urged the country to halt its plans to overhaul the legal and judicial system over concerns of potential human rights violations. Türk’s announcement comes just one week after protestors gathered outside of the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral legislature, to protest the proposed reforms that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government put forward in December 2022.
Specifically, Türk said that the proposals would limit the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to perform judicial review of legislation and would require either a super majority or unanimity of judges for the court to overturn legislation. According to Türk, these limitations would hamper the Israeli judicial system’s ability to defend the rule of law, human rights and judicial independence.
Türk warned, “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.” Türk stressed that the power to do so is fundamental to the nature of the judicial branch.
In addition to calling on the Israeli government to pause the proposed reform, Türk also urged officials to open up the reforms for debate and reflection. Because the issues lay at the “heart of the rule of law,” Türk said they “deserve the fullest consideration.”
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the statement on Tuesday. Netanyahu called the UN Human Rights Council, which Türk leads, a “biased and ineffectual body.” Netanyahu also dismissed Türk’s concerns and said the reforms would “strengthen democracy in Israel.”