Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caused a political uproar on Wednesday afternoon when he announced his government will support legislation enabling the Knesset to prevent the Supreme Court from striking down laws.
Netanyahu made the announcement at a meeting of the heads of parties in his coalition that was not attended by Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon, who supports a bill that would override the court’s authority to prevent the deportation of migrant workers but does not back bypassing the courts on other issues.
In the meeting, Netanyahu said the government would draft legislation based on British laws that permit only Parliament to cancel or change laws. The British laws limit the courts to advising the speaker of Parliament that a bill is problematic and should be reconsidered.
There had been speculation ahead of the meeting about whether Netanyahu would back a scaled-down version of the bill backed by Kahlon or legislation supported by Bayit Yehudi that could also help overturn court decisions that are seen as limiting the fight against terrorism. Netanyahu ended up choosing the most comprehensive bill possible, bypassing Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett from the Right.
But Bayit Yehudi officials said Netanyahu would actually harm the effort to bypass the courts, because instead of immediately legislating a private member’s bill that was ready, Netanyahu intends to advance a government- backed bill that would be more complicated and take longer to pass.
The Likud countered that the ministerial liaison to the Knesset, Yariv Levin, would have a stronger bill based on the British model ready for passage by Sunday.
Israel does not have a constitution, but over the past two decades, the Supreme Court has increasingly taken on the role of a constitutional court.
Kahlon’s associates would only say that he spoke ahead of the meeting to Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz and reiterated to him that Kulanu backed only the scaled-down version of the bill.
Opposition MKs warned that the legislation would enable the government and the majority to trample the opposition and minorities, who would no longer be able to turn to the courts to protect them from problematic bills.
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay called Netanyahu’s initiative “the bill to assassinate the Supreme Court” and said it was another in a series of bills backed by the prime minister that are intended to facilitate his political corruption.
He said his party would do everything possible to prevent the passage of laws that harm the courts, and he urged other parties and individuals to join the effort.
“A week before Israel’s 70th birthday, the prime minister is betraying democracy and the Declaration of Independence,” Yesh Atid MK Yael German said. “If anyone thinks this will only harm refugees and Arabs, they are mistaken.
Today it is refugees but tomorrow it will be women, haredim, gays, and when our minorities are harmed, we cease to be a democracy.”
Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich said he believes Netanyahu does not really care about passing the bill and is only using it to cause an artificial coalition crisis that could lead to an election.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said using the British model was right for Israel, and more pinpointed legislation would only “put a band-aid” on a deep dispute between the Knesset and the Supreme Court.
Channel 10 reported that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit opposes the bill.
The report said that if the bill to limit the power of the Supreme Court to strike down laws passes, the Supreme Court would strike it down.
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