The Ministerial Committee on Legislation rejected a bill
limiting nongovernmental organizations’ ability to petition the High Court,
though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in Sunday’s cabinet meeting that
there were “distortions” in the current judicial system that must be
The initiative by Likud MKs Danny Danon and Yariv Levin sought to
impose regulations to define which “public petitioners” – NGOs or individuals –
may file petitions with the High Court of Justice. The parameters for such
“public petitions” would include the case being significant to the country’s
general public, and the petitioning NGO or group disclosing all of its foreign
funding sources to the court.
Earlier this month, when Danon proposed the
bill, he said that “left-wing organizations petition the High Court on issues in
which no one was harmed and they have no connection to the general public,
leading [West Bank settlement] outposts to be dismantled even when no Arab
claims the land. We cannot let anti-Israel elements that are acting
against the State of Israel enter the High Court’s gates.”
Levin’s bill may still be brought to the Knesset for a preliminary reading on
Wednesday, but without the Ministerial Committee’s approval – i.e., coalition
support – it is unlikely to pass.
On Sunday morning, Netanyahu defended
the courts, while adding that there was room to improve them.
democracy is strong, but its strength does not exempt us from having to protect
it. Therefore, I announced that I oppose the bill that will limit High Court
petitions against the state,” he said.
“I will act this way any time a
law reaches my table that could harm the independence of the judiciary in
Israel,” Netanyahu declared. “I want to make clear: The courts in Israel are
among the cornerstones of democracy.”
The prime minister said the court
system was an “important, healthy and essential institution for the continuation
of our democratic life here.”
“This does not contradict the need to fix
distortions that have occurred over the years in every public sphere, and we
will fix them responsibly and seriously without getting carried away,” he
“I understand why the prime minister decided to reject the bill,”
Danon said on Sunday, “but I still think that even the prime minister would
agree that we must find ways to stop the cheapening of the High Court by
political groups, many of which are antagonistic to Israel and take advantage of
its democracy to harm the country.”
After the ministerial committee
rejected the bill, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz (Habayit
Hayehudi) said that “the problem is not who petitions the High Court; rather, it
is the group of judges.”
He asserted that “we must act so that the
Supreme Court reflects the variety of viewpoints in the nation, but this bill
does not contribute [to this effort] and is not appropriate.”
rights lawyers welcomed the ministerial committee’s vote against the bill, which
they had slammed as designed to harm the High Court.
Sfard of Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, which assists Palestinians in
legal actions against alleged land infractions, had strongly opposed the
“The High Court of Justice is undoubtedly an institution that helps
the minority and checks majority rule,” Sfard said. “The proposed legislation
seeks to destroy this important element of Israeli democracy.”
Dan Yakir, legal adviser for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, said the
bill would damage the High Court’s powers and was “part of the continued
delegitimization campaign against human rights organizations.”
to Yakir, the bill was “legally unnecessary” because the High Court had
developed extensive case law on locus standi, the ability of a petitioner to
demonstrate its sufficient connection to and harm from a law it was challenging
“The court already has the tools to deal with inappropriate
petitions,” Yakir said.
The Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of
Justice, has several functions, including exercising judicial review over the
various branches of government, and is empowered by the Basic Law: The Judiciary
to “grant relief in the interests of justice.”
The High Court is a court
of first instance for petitions against the legality of decisions made by state
authorities, including local authorities, and can also rule on petitions that
call into question the constitutionality of laws approved by Knesset.
Ministerial Committee on Legislation has yet to come to a final decision
regarding two other bills that would limit NGOs. One would levy a 45- percent
tax on donations from foreign governments, while the other would limit such
contributions to NIS 20,000. The committee originally approved both bills for
government support, a decision appealed by a group of cabinet members led by
Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin (Likud).
Begin warned the Likud
MKs who have been proposing controversial legislation that their behavior could
harm the party in the next election.
“Being a ruling party requires
understanding that there are limits to power, and recognizing the rights of the
minority,” Begin wrote in a column in Israel HaYom.
“Being a ruling party
requires following the golden rule of Hillel the Elder: ‘That which is hateful
to you, do not do to your fellow,’” he continued. “As we have seen in the past,
a ruling party that embarrasses some of its supporters with its powerpolitics
will in the end be banished from power.”
Reacting to Deputy Prime
Minister Dan Meridor’s threat to quit if legislation that harmed the courts
passed, Begin told Army Radio that questions about his own future were
irrelevant because such bills would not be approved.
contributed to this report.