Ministers approve Supreme Court override bill

Coalition still does not have a majority to approve the bill in a Knesset vote.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon responds to Ministers approval of Supreme Court override bill, May 6, 2018 (Arik Bender/Maariv)
A bill that would allow the Knesset to repass laws struck down by the Supreme Court received the unanimous approval of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call to postpone the vote.
The bill is not likely to get the 61 votes necessary to pass in the Knesset plenum, after Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon instructed Kulanu’s 10 MKs to vote against it, and Likud MK Bennie Begin said he would also vote against it. If the vote is held this Wednesday, the day for preliminary votes, Netanyahu plans to be in Moscow when it takes place.
Kahlon’s reticence is one reason Netanyahu did not want the vote to be held Sunday, though he said he supports the idea of the bill.
“In order to be practical with the override clause, there must be a dialogue between all factors in the coalition so we can reach an agreed-upon formula,” Netanyahu told coalition party leaders.
Yet Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who belongs to the same party and chairs the ministerial committee, pushed for a vote on a version of the override clause proposed by MK Bezalel Smotrich, also of Bayit Yehudi.
Smotrich’s bill states that the Knesset can repass laws that were overturned by the Supreme Court only by obtaining the votes of 61 MKs, often called a super-majority. Most laws can be passed with a simple majority of MKs who are present in the Knesset at the time.
“The override article... passed unanimously in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. This is a great day for Israeli democracy,” Bennett wrote on Facebook after the vote. “We will strengthen governance and the public’s trust in the courts. I thank my fellow cabinet members for the support.”
The current push to reverse Supreme Court decisions came in response to a ruling earlier this year that stopped the government’s plan to deport African migrants to third countries, in part because the agreements with those countries were not being upheld. In the ensuing months, all of those agreements fell apart.
All coalition parties are for the deportation, but Kahlon opposes weakening the Supreme Court. Kahlon has some support for his position within his party. MK Rachel Azaria has vocally opposed the override bill, but the other Kulanu ministers, Economy Minister Eli Cohen and Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Gallant, disagree.
THE PROPOSED bill violated the coalition agreement, and Netanyahu should hold talks with the coalition partners, Kahlon said after Sunday’s vote.
“Israel is too dear to us to give it up to extremists,” he said.
Kahlon’s position is due in part to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s opposition to it. Deputy Attorney- General Raz Nizri told the ministers that Mandelblit’s “position is to oppose all the proposals. We’re not saying they’re unconstitutional, because it’s an amendment to a Basic Law [laws that are meant to be chapters of a future constitution], but we oppose it.”
Instead, Nizri called for a broader bill regulating the relationship between the legislative and judicial branches of government. Bennett said he would prefer such an initiative as well. However, the coalition agreement allows new Basic Laws to be vetoed, which means Kulanu could block it.
All of the opposition parties came out against the override clause.
Zionist Union faction chairman Yoel Hasson said all of his party’s MKs would vote against the bill in the Knesset.
“This is an illegitimate law that goes against the public interest and harms democracy, and we do not plan to help the coalition pass it,” he said.
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman warned that the bill “is dangerous and can destroy the democratic space and make human rights subject to the whims of the extreme right.”
Yesh Atid MK Yael German said: “The current government... declared war on the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty... The bill will strengthen the majority and weaken the minority. It will start with refugees, Arabs, and continue to women, the gay community and so on.”
Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said the bill would authorize “any racist, homophobic, antidemocratic and anti-secular idea. The bill is meant to prevent the High Court of Justice from stopping racist, antidemocratic initiatives. The government wants to circumvent the High Court to forcibly deport refugees; to arrest asylum-seekers without a trial for an unlimited amount of time; and to close all businesses on Saturdays; to anchor in law the [ultra-orthodox] exemption from the military; to whitewash all outposts in the territories and those that will come; to separate men and women in government organizations; to expand acceptance committees in neighborhoods and cities. All of these are bills that are already on the way, and who knows what will come after that.”