The battle between Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked over the future balance of power between the Knesset and the courts hit a new level of ferocity on Monday.Hayut called Sunday’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation vote on a bill that would allow the Knesset to override a Supreme Court veto with a 61-MK majority “a vicious attack” on the court by the government and the legislature.Speaking at the President’s Residence at the inauguration of 18 new judges and senior registrars appointed to district and magistrate’s courts, Hayut warned that the bill undermined the foundations of Israeli democracy.If the bill is passed by the Knesset plenum, Hayut said, the Supreme Court will lose its independence, and there will be no entity to protect the rights of the weak.She said the status of the Supreme Court is not the issue; it is the eradication of basic human rights and the resultant legal chaos.
“It’s a dangerous situation that could have international repercussions,” Hayut said, adding to thunderous applause, “The political struggle against the judiciary is unjust and irresponsible.”Hayut appeared to dismiss as out of hand a push by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and others for a compromise in which the Knesset could override a Supreme Court veto with 70 votes.She also voiced opposition to a bill with potential support from the Kulanu Party that would give the Knesset the power to override the Supreme Court only regarding the issue of African migrants.Hayut said limiting the court’s judicial review powers would also harm Israel’s reputation worldwide, since the court’s independence has become a source of pride for Israel, and its rulings have been translated into English to be used as paradigms by other courts.Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai spoke out in support of Hayut, saying: “This is a call to battle by the senior judicial authority in the State of Israel to save democracy. The Supreme Court is aware of its limitations and has always been careful in canceling laws. The pile-on initiated by the Right against one of the symbols of Israeli democracy undermines the Jewish and democratic foundations of the State of Israel.”Shaked pushed back firmly, but in a more understated fashion than in the past.She said Israeli democracy was alive and well, even though “Every week voices come down from the heavens claiming that Israel is marching toward the end of democracy.”THE JUSTICE minister said if an alien came down to Earth to observe, he would be convinced that democracy in Israel is fragile and on the verge of collapse.“I hate to disappoint the eulogized, but go outside, look around,” Shaked said. “Israeli democracy is alive, breathing and kicking and stronger than any of its critics. And believe me, it can handle different opinions and ideas. The influx of announcements about the death of democracy is completely absurd.”In approving the proposed legislation, she said, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation had taken a meaningful step toward implementing the vision of the late Supreme Court president Moshe Landau.While acknowledging that a long process still lies ahead, Shaked was confident the branches of government would eventually work things out.Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a staunch opponent of judicial activism, said Hayut’s statements were anti-democratic, in that “The judges and the values they believe in stand above the values of the general public, as they are expressed in the makeup of the Knesset and its decisions.”According to Levin, “Supreme Court justices inappropriately took excessive authority upon themselves to cancel laws, and now they’re upset when we want to do what is necessary to bring back the correct democratic order.”President Reuven Rivlin tried to strike a middle ground, saying negotiation was preferable to having one side of the debate force its will on the other.The president said democracy is always represented as the will of the majority, and that the minority accepts the decisions of the majority even when it does not agree.That does not mean the minority should desist from trying to persuade or dissuade the majority, said Rivlin.Democracy permits the use of all legitimate means to try to reverse the decisions of the majority, especially when it comes to the rights of the minority, he said.It is then the moral obligation of the majority to concede that the matter is sufficiently sensitive to require a reexamination and to change the decision, he added. In the past, Rivlin has supported the compromise of an override bill based on a vote of 70 MKs.Separately, Rivlin noted that women had progressed within the legal establishment. He noted that 15 of the 18 new appointees were women. Together with the presence of Hayut and Shaked, he said, this was a cause for celebrating that women have come a long way in Israel, while conceding that there is still a long way to go.Shaked reminded him that there is now a woman also presiding over the National Labor Court, with Varda Wirth Livne having been appointed president in March.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon responds to Ministers approval of Supreme Court override bill, May 6, 2018 (Arik Bender/Maariv)