Dangerous overhaul: On Israel’s judicial overhaul plan

Israel will be weaker and more authoritarian after undermining the judiciary 

July 26, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 09:58 am IST

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister, scored a legislative victory on Monday when his coalition passed an important part of his judicial overhaul plan in the Knesset, but at a great cost. The controversial Bill was passed with the support of Mr. Netanyahu’s 64 coalition lawmakers against zero, while the Opposition boycotted the vote and thousands protested outside Parliament. His coalition of right-wing and ultra-orthodox parties says the legislation, which would take away the Supreme Court’s ability to review the government’s “unreasonable” decisions, is to bring a balance between government and judiciary. Israel’s polity has shifted to the right, putting governments, often led by right-wing or centre-right parties with support from far-right parties, at odds with the judiciary. Mr. Netanyahu’s allies want to fix this contradiction through the judicial overhaul. But the problem is that bringing the judiciary, the only powerful constitutional check on the government, under government control could cause the existing institutional balance in Israel’s polity to deteriorate, especially when far-right parties are on the ascent. This is what triggered the protests by workers, professionals and reservists (the backbone of Israel’s military), who accuse Mr. Netanyahu of trying to undermine democracy.

For the far-right parties in the ruling coalition, curtailing the powers of the Supreme Court is the obvious way to expedite Israel’s transformation and the subjugation of the Palestinians. Ministers such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich want more Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and a crackdown on the “disloyal” Arab minority of the Jewish state. With the new legislation, the government’s actions cannot be nullified by the Supreme Court on the ground that they were “unreasonable”. Also, this judicial and political crisis cannot be seen as insulated from the larger one that Israel has been grappling with. Israel, while hailed in the West as “the Middle East’s only democracy”, has two systems for its citizens and those living in the occupied and annexed regions, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The judicial overhaul plan has bust the myth that Israel’s democratic order would be protected irrespective of its brutal occupation of the Palestinians. It is not a coincidence that the overhaul’s greatest supporters are also the greatest defenders of the occupation. The far-right wants to turn Israel into an authoritarian theocracy, with few checks and balances at home and unbridled expansion into the occupied land. But its push has also exposed Israel’s faultlines, plunging it into its biggest crisis. Mr. Netanyahu might have pushed the Bill through the Knesset, but he has rendered Israel weaker.

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