Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset, Israel’s supreme state legislative body, made an initial reference on Tuesday to a new bill limiting the Supreme Court’s power to rule against the government. In a 9-6 vote, lawmakers in the Constitutional Law and Justice Committee voted in favor of a bill limiting “reasonableness” as a standard of judicial review. The bill now advances to its first reading in the Knesset plenum.
Some committee members were not present for the vote after they were removed from the floor for interference. The lawmakers that were removed claimed that not all of the invited experts and legal advisors had presented their statements to the committee.
Regardless, the bill advanced after lawmakers of the ruling coalition government argued that the current “reasonableness” test is too subjective. They claimed that the current test may lead the judiciary to interpret the intention of the government in line with their subjective view of the government’s politics. Critics of the bill nicknamed it the “corruption bill,” highlighting the test’s role as a means of reviewing governmental decisions that may be arbitrary and extremely unreasonable.
The judiciary’s role in legislative oversight has been at the center of public debate in Israel since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first announced his intent to reform the judiciary eight months ago. Netanyahu’s initial proposed reform included: increasing the government’s control over the Judicial Selection Committee; allowing the committee to vote for the president of the Supreme Court, instead of the current seniority-based system; and introducing an override clause to allow the Knesset to re-enact a law that the Supreme Court invalidated.
Since the introduction of these reforms, Israelis have taken to the streets to protest, concerned about the impact the reform would have on their rights.
On March 26, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant issued a public statement calling for the judicial overhaul to stop and for negotiations to begin, following months of protests. Despite supporting the proposed reforms, he urged that all legislative processes working to change the justice system must be stopped “for the sake of Israel’s security, for the sake of our sons and daughters.” Netanyahu saw this as a betrayal and fired Gallant, which caused further outrage and led to more protests. Afterwards, in March, Netanyahu paused the legislation and held compromise talks with the opposition, but has since continued with a “scaled back” version of the overhaul.
As an additional complication to his ongoing efforts to pass the reform bill, Netanyahu currently faces trial on corruption charges. If convicted, he would likely appeal his ruling to the Supreme Court, which is at the heart of the proposed reform bill. Netanyahu’s trial and the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) operation in Jenin, which left at least 11 dead and approximately 100 injured, were both points of contention in the Tuesday committee meeting. Tensions were extremely high, and this bill’s passing will likely only raise them further.