Chris Lange, FISM News
Israel’s Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it will hear challenges to the newly-passed judicial reform law curbing its authority. The move underscores the enormous power wielded by the High Court which lies at the heart of the current political turmoil.
The Movement for Quality Government, one of the petitioners, argued that the new “reasonableness” law passed by the Knesset on Monday “represents the opening notes of the closing chapter of democracy in Israel.”
However, conservative Israeli lawmaker Simcha Rothman, who supports the judicial reforms, argued that a decision by the court concerning its own authority is “not democracy.”
Should the Court decide to overturn the law, Netanyahu’s government could ignore the ruling. A bench decision posted on the court’s website indicated that a hearing will be set for the appeal in September.
THE REASONABLENESS STANDARD
The Reasonableness Standard Bill is the first measure passed by the Knesset in the legislative package of judicial reforms backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and conservative party lawmakers. Israel’s parliament passed the law on Monday in a 64-0 vote after opposition party leaders stormed out of Knesset Hall when the voting began.
The crux of the disagreement is over Israel’s reasonableness standard, which was established in the 1950s as a check on government powers. The rule gives the court broad authority to override governmental and administrative decisions. Proponents of the judicial overhaul argue that Israel’s Supreme Court has increasingly abused its discretionary powers to serve its own political agenda.
Prof. Gadi Taub, a prominent Israeli conservative and political commentator, cited the court’s attempt to oust Shas party chair and Knesset Member Aryeh Deri, a Netanyahu confidant, as “an extreme example of judicial overreach and a demonstration that this whole thing is a political struggle.” Taub pointed out that Deri was democratically elected.
“The court thinks that it can overrule the public’s democratic choice, not on the basis of law, but on the basis of reasonableness,” Taub said. “By reasonable, what is now meant is, ‘Does the judge like it?’ Basically, this is a lawless system in which judges feel they can intervene, not just in the legality of decisions, but in the content of decisions of all other organs of government,” he added.
Others say that curbs on the High Court’s powers would foment corruption and transform Israel’s democratic government into an authoritarian ruling coalition with the power to prosecute anyone who disagrees with its policies.
Israel Policy Forum expressed “dismay” over Monday’s vote in a statement.
“This is not merely a policy decision that should be left to a Knesset majority on the theory that elections have consequences; it is a reordering of Israel’s governing institutions and its system of checks and balances,” a portion of the statement reads. “Both the numbers of Israelis demonstrating in the streets for seven months and the deep unpopularity of the new law as measured by public opinion polling belie any claims that eliminating reasonableness reflects the will of a majority of Israelis.”
As protests continued this week, thousands of Israeli reservists vowed that they would not report for duty in response to Monday’s vote, sparking concern over Israel’s military readiness.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the dissenters would “harm all of the citizens of the country” if they made good on those threats.
ISRAEL’S ‘DARKEST HOUR’
President and CEO of Near East Media Joel C. Rosenberg said that the nation of Israel “is in its darkest hour of internal division since the modern founding of the country in May of 1948.”
Rosenberg, who is also the editor-in-chief of All Israeli News and All Arab News, wrote in an op-ed that, until now, all of Israel’s threats have come from the outside.
“We’ve faced all kinds of external crises from day one — minute one — of Israel in 1948, the invasion by seven Arab nations, and then, of course, in [the wars of] 1956 and ‘67 and ‘73 and ‘82 and on and on…But what’s happening now is tremendous internal division. And literally, a former prime minister [Ehud Olmert] of Israel just yesterday said it is bringing the country to the brink of civil war.”