Israel’s Supreme Court takes up judicial overhaul following mass protests
Israel’s Supreme Court heard Tuesday petitions regarding the possibility that the legislative could strip the court of its legal oversight powers.
The long-term process will take place as the nation, which is deeply polarized, has been rocked by protests. It also teeters at the brink of a constitutional crisis, as the right-wingest government in the history of the country tries to alter the way the country’s institutional structure functions.
All 15 justices are hearing the arguments which began just after 9 am local time. This is a first for the court. The daily Haaretz published an editorial on Tuesday calling it the “most important Supreme Court hearings in Israel’s History.” However, it is still unclear whether the government will honor the final ruling. What you need to know about Israel’s Supreme Court taking up the judicial revamp After eight months, there have been mass protests and strikes as well as roadblocks. Tens of thousands of people gathered outside the court on the night prior to the start of hearings. The issues have now boiled down into legal arguments regarding the division of power in a nation without a written constitution. Petitioners have effectively asked the court to decide its fate, claiming that a vote by the government in July was an attempt at a power grab and at risk of judicial independence. Simcha Rothman argued at the hearing on Tuesday that the justices are acting as a “privileged elite” and working to overturn people’s will. Rothman stated that it was clear that the justices believed that they were acting correctly. If you are to be the final arbiters of this issue, where are your brakes and balances?” Rothman asked. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut replied that the hearing wasn’t about the members, but the specific legislation. She said, “We don’t care about our dignity or status.” We are protecting the vital interests of the public when administrative duties, in this instance, the government’s, are not met. Several ministers said that they would not follow a court ruling that reversed their vote in July to reduce the court’s judicial review powers. Benjamin Netanyahu refused to make it clear whether he would obey the ruling. Netanyahu tweeted a video last week of the Knesset Speaker saying that the Knesset would not “surrender and accept being trampled on.” The court may also uphold the law, but limit its application. In either case, it’s unclear whether the government will abide by this decision. Tzipi Livni said, “The constitutional crises is already here” at a mass rally held outside the court on Monday night. She was a former Justice Minister and an opponent of the proposed judicial changes. The controversy has caused havoc in Israel, with the currency dropping, investors fleeing and a split within the military that led to commanders warning government ministers about a crisis of readiness. The day before the Supreme Court’s session, demonstrators flooded central Jerusalem, spilling out of the station and filling the streets surrounding the court, parliament, and prime minister’s offices. The police repelled their attempt to surround the Supreme Court on Monday. Some camped near court. The smaller crowd on Tuesday beat drums, blew vuvuzelas, and pledged to keep filling the streets to fight the judicial reform. Eyal Jaffe is a retired colonel, who has been leading a group that has kept vigil for 24 hours outside the court. The veterans are all veterans of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. “If this revolution continues, then we will protest” The hearing started with increased security both inside and outside the court. First, the government presents its arguments. Then, lawyers representing the opposition present theirs. Ilan Bombach told the justices, as a government lawyer, that the high courts lack the authority to make a decision on a change in a basic law that was voted by the Knesset. He said that it is up to the elected legislators to determine the arguments. A judge asked what would happen to the Supreme Court’s rights if the Knesset legislated away those rights. Bombach stated that this was an extreme scenario. The government and Knesset are expecting the Supreme Court’s trust that they won’t use what might be deemed a nuclear weapon. Anar Helman told the court that after lunch, “when the government says ‘trust us,’ we must be very cautious.” The hearing room was packed with government supporters, opponents and diplomats from around the world. Amit Becher was one of them. He is the head of Israel Bar Association, and he was also one of those petitioners who opposed the judicial changes. On X (formerly Twitter), he said that “the fight will be long, but democracy and Zionism in the end will win.” Justice minister Yariv Levin posted on Facebook, a staunch supporter of judicial reform, that the Supreme Court’s hearing was a “fatal blow to democracy, and status of the Knesset”. The basic laws passed by the Knesset express the will of the people, who are sovereign. The debates inside and outside of the courtrooms illustrated how Israelis perceive the high court. The right accuses the court of being an elitist leftist secular institution which has been an obstacle to the government policies it claims reflect the will the voters. Leftists see it as a pillar of democracy, protecting minority rights. Netanyahu did not attend the court on Tuesday. Instead, he convened an unusual full cabinet meeting, which included his chief lawyer. Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated that he spent the last week trying to find a compromise which would prevent or delay the need for an unpopular court ruling. In the midst of the controversy, the longtime leader has seen his standing among pollsters and the international community erode significantly. Next week, he will travel to New York.