Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin threw his support behind Justice Minister Yaakov
Neeman’s memorandum on a proposed Basic Law on Sunday, as opposition parties
called the measure irresponsible and a danger to democracy.
recommendations by a government-appointed public committee headed by Neeman, the
proposed Basic Law: Legislation establishes the authority of the Supreme Court
to annul laws – and stipulates that the Knesset can still pass a law even if the
court overturned it.
For that to happen, the law must be brought back to
the Knesset to pass three readings by a special majority of 65 Knesset members.
The bill stipulates that such a law could remain in force for a maximum of five
years, after which the Knesset could extend it for a similar
Rivlin said he would make sure that the Basic Law, which provides
legal clarifications of various legislative functions and regulates the
relationship between the Supreme Court and the Knesset, is brought to a vote in
the Knesset’s summer session.
According to the Knesset speaker, such a
law is a necessity, because the Knesset and the Supreme Court have been on a
“collision course” for decades. Rivlin expressed hope that a Basic Law would
stop the conflicts between the legislative and judicial branches of
Rivlin plans to meet with Supreme Court President Asher Dan
Grunis to discuss the bill and find a version that is agreeable to both
In a blow to efforts to pass the bill, Knesset legal adviser Eyal
Yinon announced that he deeply opposes the legislation.
He warned that it
would deepen conflicts between the legislative and judicial branches and harm
Israel's image abroad.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also denounced
Neeman’s proposal, calling for the government and the courts to hold a dialogue
before legislating the connection between the Knesset and the Supreme
“A law circumventing the Supreme Court does not solve any
problems,” he said.
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich slammed the proposal,
saying that the government should have proposed a Basic Law that would guarantee
“Neeman has proposed a bill that paves the way to wild,
irresponsible legislation and increased conflict,” Yacimovich said. “His
memorandum empties the Supreme Court of its content.”
MK Shlomo Molla
(Kadima) said the proposed Basic Law is populist, anti-democratic, harms the
rule of law and chips away at existing Basic Laws.
According to Meretz
leader Zehava Gal-On, Neeman misread the Passover Haggada, and does not
understand the meaning of the Festival of Freedom, because the bill claims to
protect freedoms, but actually violates them.
“The High Court cancels the
Knesset’s laws and decisions that violate human rights.
gives unlimited power to the majority, and allows violations,” she explained,
calling for “all parties who fear for democracy” to form a united front against
Civil rights NGO The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel said on
Sunday that they welcomed Neeman’s bill, but the proposed legislation should be
Legal Forum director attorney Nachi Eyal said the Basic
Law should stipulate that laws could only be struck down by a unanimous High
Court of Justice ruling, and that such rulings should only be made with great
“The fact that the High Court has taken upon itself to annul
Knesset laws without recourse to elected officials is a badge of shame for this
country and for democracy and it is time to correct this distortion,” Eyal
Though Israel does not have a formal constitution, its Basic Laws
are constitutional in nature, and Neeman said the proposed Basic Law:
Legislation was intended for inclusion in a future Israeli
In his memorandum, Neeman pointed out that even though
passing legislation is an integral part of the working of the state, there is no
formal regulation of the legislative process. Instead, those regulations are
only set out in the Knesset’s Rules of Procedure.
The proposed Basic Law
also stipulates that the Knesset is the legislative authority and by that virtue
has the power to enact laws, a determination that is not yet enshrined in
Israel’s Basic Laws, Neeman’s memorandum said.
Further, the proposed law
stipulates that only the High Court will have the authority to annul
Initially, a panel of three justices would rule
whether doubt exists over the constitutionality of a law. If the panel decided
doubt did exist, a panel of nine justices would examine the matter. To strike
down a law, there must be a majority ruling from that nine justice
Currently, the High Court’s authority to undertake judicial review
of laws is not formally enshrined in law but is a result of the 1992 passage of
the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation,
part of the so-called “Constitutional Revolution” initiated by former Supreme
Court president Aharon Barak.
Those two Basic Laws expanded the court’s
power to strike down Knesset legislation if a majority of justices deemed it in
violation of those laws.
In February, the High Court invoked the Basic
Laws to overturn the Tal Law, when a panel of six justices against three voted
that the law violated the so-called “limitations clause” of the Basic Law: Human
Dignity and Liberty, which allows the law to be infringed by new laws “befitting
the values of the State of Israel, enacted for a proper purpose and to an extent
no greater than required.”
The proposed Basic Law: Legislation also sets
out who is permitted to submit bills for laws and the process by which those
bills are passed into law.
In addition, the draft law proposes modifying
the way Basic Laws are legislated, including that only the government or a
Knesset committee may table bills for Basic Laws.
Currently, any Knesset
member can propose such a bill.
Further, Basic Laws would have to undergo
four Knesset readings, instead of the current three. The fourth reading would
require a special majority of 65 MKs.
If passed, the Basic Law will also
have super-legal status similar to that of other Basic Laws, in that its
provisions cannot be canceled or altered except by another Basic Law; neither
can the law be suspended or altered by Israel’s Emergency
Attempts to enact such a law in the past have
A Basic Law: Legislation was first proposed in 1975, by
then-Justice minister Haim Zadok – but that proposal fell through when Zadok
failed to garner government support for it.
In 1993, then-Justice
minister David Libai proposed the Basic Law again, but despite its passing a
first reading in Knesset, it failed its second and third readings.
2000, the then-chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, MK Amnon
Rubinstein, proposed the law, but it failed its first reading.
Hoffman contributed to this report.