Despite massive protests, the Israeli parliament, also known as Knesset, approved a key portion of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary on Monday, July 24, 2023.
Last minute talks to find a compromise, led by the country’s president, failed to stop Israel’s far-right government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from pushing ahead with the vote.
The vote came only hours after Netanyahu was released from the hospital, where he had a pacemaker implanted. He pushed the bill through despite Israel’s most important ally, the United States, issuing increasingly forceful warnings not to do so.
Opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote and stormed out of the chamber after chanting “shame.” With the opposition absent, the bill was passed by 64-0 vote.
Ahead of Monday’s vote, opposition leader, Yair Lapid averred, “We are headed for disaster.”
In Monday’s vote, lawmakers approved a measure that prevents judges from striking down government decisions on the basis that they are “unreasonable.”
The bill’s supporters claim that the current “reasonability” standard gives unelected judges excessive powers over decision-making by elected officials.
However, critics say that it rather removes a key element of the court’s oversight powers and opens the way for corruption and improper appointments.
Another bill, already voted through in March, makes it more difficult for a sitting Prime Minister to be declared unfit for office, restricting the reasons to physical or mental incapacity and requiring either the Prime Minister themselves, or two-thirds of the cabinet, to vote for such a declaration.
After the vote, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the plan’s architect, declared that parliament had taken “first step in an important historic process” of overhauling the judiciary.
The overhaul calls for sweeping changes aimed at curbing the powers of the judiciary, from limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to challenge parliamentary decisions to changing the way judges are selected. Netanyahu and his allies claim that the changes are needed to curtail the powers of unelected judges.
Netanyahu paused the overhaul in March after intense pressure by protesters and labor strikes that halted outgoing flights and shut down parts of the economy. After talks to find a compromise failed last month, he announced that his government was pressing on with the overhaul.
More Mass Protests To Ensue
As a result of parliament’s approval of the divisive bill, more mass protests are expected to take place.
Before the vote, protesters, many of whom feel the very foundations of their country are being eroded by the government’s plan, blocked a road leading up to the parliament, and big mall chains and some gas stations shuttered their doors in protest.
The Movement for Quality Government, a civil society group, immediately announced that it would challenge the new law in the Supreme Court.
The group filed a petition with the Supreme Court immediately after the vote took place, asking the court to declare the law illegal on the grounds that it changes the basic structure of Israeli democracy, and requesting that it block its implementation until the court has ruled on it.
The grassroots protest movement condemned the vote, saying Netanyahu’s “government of extremists is showing their determination to jam their fringe ideology down the throats of millions of citizens.”
“No one can predict the extent of damage and social upheaval that will follow the passage of the legislation,” it said.
Israel’s umbrella labor union, the Histadrut, warned moments after the government passed the reasonableness bill that if the government continued to legislate unilaterally, there would be serious consequences.
The law still needs to be endorsed by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, a formality under Israel’s political system.