The government’s judicial overhaul plan is not laid out in a 442-page book that was published on Sunday containing the government’s work plans for 2023, despite the reform being a central focus of the government and coalition since early January.
The work plan, which is published annually, includes all of the government ministries and a number of additional statutory government bodies. Each section begins with introductory remarks by the relevant minister and director-general. It then lays out the goals, tasks, and measures of each ministry. The book this year is in an abbreviated format, due to its publication over halfway through the year as the government was only sworn in on December 29.
In the section regarding the justice minister, Yariv Levin wrote in his introductory remarks that his ministry will “focus on strengthening public trust in the [judicial] system, with various legislative amendments that will assist the public.” Within this framework, “a deep reform will be advanced in the judicial system, including everything dealing with the interaction between the judicial branch [of government] and the executive and legislative branches,” Levin wrote.
However, in the goals, tasks and measures laid out in the following pages, there is no mention of any parts of the reform.
The reform is also not mentioned in the preface by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He lists as his government’s goals “increasing economic growth, lowering the high cost of living, shrinking socioeconomic gaps, increasing the level of services given to the civilian, strengthening governance and personal safety, and fortifying the State of Israel’s status in the world.”
Why does judicial reform not appear in Israel's 2023 government plan?
The fact that the judicial overhaul does not appear in detail in the work plans comes despite Netanyahu, Levin, and other ministers’ numerous statements as to its importance and the centrality of its passage in the government’s ability to carry out its policies.
In his government’s first cabinet meeting on December 29, immediately after the government was sworn in, Netanyahu said that his administration’s four priorities would be to block Iran; to restore the security and governance within the State of Israel; to deal with the cost of living and the housing problem; and to “dramatically” expand the circle of peace. The prime minister did not mention judicial reform.
Critics have accused Netanyahu of surrendering to hardliners within his coalition regarding the judicial reforms, and the fact that the work plans do not include the reforms seems to support the notion that they are not a priority for the prime minister.
The work plans have been laid out annually in the form of a book since 2016, save for 2020 and 2021. The book is coordinated by the governance and social affairs branch in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Other government reforms that include legislation do appear in the plans, such as one under the Economy Ministry that includes a bill to reform Israel’s importing standards so that they match those of Europe.
However, unlike the Economy Ministry bill that is being proposed as a government-proposed one, the bills associated with the judicial reform have been proposed either by private MKs or by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and not as government laws. The current law on the “reasonableness standard,” for example, is a proposal by the Constitution Committee, and not the government.
Government-proposed bills go through a more rigorous review than Knesset-proposed ones, as they require remarks and comments from all government ministries that the law could affect. The opposition has claimed regarding previous judicial overhaul proposals, including regarding the current bill, that the government is intentionally advancing the bills via personal Knesset members or the Constitution Committee in order both to bypass criticism and to speed up the legislative process.
In January, Levin attempted to propose a government bill that included a number of judicial overhaul provisions, including one that would bar the Supreme Court from hearing appeals against Basic Laws, give the coalition a majority in the Judicial Selection Committee, and others.
The Attorney-General’s Office in response laid out what it claimed were the bill’s problematic aspects, and returned it to Levin in order to instigate changes. The office did not compile an official legal opinion. Levin accused the attorney-general of intentionally delaying his bill, and explained this as the reason the reform was being carried out via the Knesset.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in response, “The reform in the judicial system is led by the political echelon as legislation in the Knesset, and therefore does not appear as part of a plan in the Justice Ministry itself, according to the principle of division of power.”