A bill allowing the Knesset to reverse High Court of Justice decisions to annul laws has to go to an additional cabinet vote after Justice Minister Tzipi Livni appealed the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s approval of the measure Sunday.
The initiative by Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Ayelet Shaked is an amendment to Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty that would allow the Knesset, with a majority of 61 MKs, to overturn a High Court ruling to cancel a law. After a period of four years, the Knesset would have to review its decision. It replicates a similar clause in Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation passed during former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s time.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which Livni leads, voted in favor of the bill with eight in favor and three – Livni, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Health Minister Yael German – opposed.
Shaked proposed the bill in light of last month’s ruling to strike down the government’s policy for dealing with illegal migration for the second time in one year.
“During the ruling on the Infiltration Law, [Supreme Court] President [Asher] Grunis implored his peers, the judges, not to take the reins of legislation in their hands, in order not to create a crisis in [the courts’] relations with the government and the Knesset,” Shaked explained.
According to Shaked, the bill allows the Knesset, which is elected by the people, to have the last word when there is a significant disagreement between the legislative and judicial branches.
“If the argument between the appointed judges and the elected officials is about whether or not a law matches the state’s values or not, whether it is proportional or not, it is appropriate for the public’s values to prevail,” she said.
Shaked pointed out that a similar law exists in Canada, and in the UK the court can only suggest to parliament to cancel a law, but the final decision is the lawmakers’.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said that “this law does not circumvent the High Court, the court’s rulings circumvent the Knesset.
“The Knesset and the government are the sovereign in Israel and MK Shaked’s bill brings the principle of separation of powers, which we all learned in civics class, to reality,” he stated.
Bennett posited that “giving a green light to infiltrators from Africa, when the Knesset’s hands are tied and cannot prevent this, is dangerous for our security and our democracy. This bill will save them both.”
Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach, who supported the bill said it is “faithful to my view that a bad law by the legislature is better than a good law by a judge, only because [the Knesset] is chosen by the public, which is the sovereign.”
Livni immediately submitted an appeal to the bill, which means that it has to be brought to a general ministerial vote in order to receive the coalition’s approval, which would make it more likely to be voted into law in the Knesset.
“I criticize the High Court sometimes, but this is a much bigger story than that. This is a battle for the source of authority, a battle between the court and the [rule of] law, against religion and rabbis,” she said.
As for illegal migration, Livni said the government will solve the problem, but politicians shouldn’t take advantage of it to try to harm the High Court.
“This is not the right way, not the right timing and comes with disturbing trends of harming minorities’ rights, extreme nationalism, racism and a lack of respect for basic rights and constitutional values,” she added. “This proposal allows the Knesset, with a random coalition majority, to trample every right that is part of us being a Jewish and democratic state.”
Opposition MKs blasted the ministers for voting in favor of Shaked’s proposal.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said the ministerial committee is “profligate and irresponsible, making decisions based on a political agenda while harming human rights.”
According to Gal-On, the decision is dangerous, will damage the separation of powers and harms the High Court only because its decisions do not suit the ministers’ political ideology.
“Israel is on a sure path to saying goodbye to the democratic world. We shouldn’t wonder anymore why delegitimization of Israel grows in the international community,” MK Nachman Shai (Labor) said.
A Labor spokesman said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is selling out Israeli democracy for his political survivor and that “Bennett and his friends” are leading the wall of democratic values in Israel to crumble with the help of Netanyahu’s passiveness.
“Ministers who believe in a Jewish and democratic Israel need to realize that if the choice is between them and Bennett, the prime minister will always pick Bennett,” the Labor spokesman added.