uDespite massive protests, Israel’s right-wing religious government has pushed ahead with its plan to weaken the judicial system. The parliament (Knesset) approved part of the controversial judicial reform in the first of three readings on Tuesday night (local time) after an eight-hour session. “A great night and a great day,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted after the vote. Tens of thousands of people protested nationwide on Monday against the plans of the right-wing religious government.
One goal of the judicial reform planned by the Israeli government is to enable the parliament – currently dominated by it – to overturn decisions of the highest court with a simple majority. Politicians should also be given more influence in the appointment of judges. Critics see the democratic separation of powers in danger, and there have been repeated mass demonstrations against the coalition’s plans. The right-wing religious government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, argues that the Supreme Court is currently exercising too much political influence.
Because Israel does not have a written constitution and the state is instead based on a set of basic laws, the Supreme Court is of particular importance in upholding the rule of law and human rights. President Izchak Herzog warned of a constitutional and social collapse in Israel if the government implemented its plans uncompromisingly and against all odds.
Mass protests against the law
In the early hours of the morning, demonstrators blocked central roads in the country and tried to prevent MPs from entering the Knesset. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said they would “trample democracy”. Turbulent scenes also took place during the parliamentary session in the evening. Opposition leader Jair Lapid said history would judge members of the government for the vote. “For the damage to democracy, for the damage to the economy, for the damage to security.”
The opposition in parliament announced that they would “fight for the soul of the nation”. Polls had shown that most Israelis want reforms to slow down to allow dialogue with critics – or do not want reforms.
Warning of economic consequences
Given the instability of the reform dispute, many economists and high-tech and banking leaders have warned against a flight of investors and capital from Israel. “There is no connection between the judicial reforms and a hit to Israel’s economy,” Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni dismissed the warning. Any attempt at a link is politically motivated.
President Isaac Herzog has repeatedly called on the government and opposition to hold compromise talks. While both sides have indicated their readiness, they disagree on the terms.
Bushman in Israel
Meanwhile, Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann visited the country for the first time since the Israeli government was sworn in. The FDP politician found warning words without mentioning the proposed law directly.
“Learning from history means recognizing that you should look for broad majorities if you want to change the rules of the game of democratic competition and the interaction of constitutional bodies,” said Buschmann at an exhibition opening in Tel Aviv in the evening. In Germany, amendments to the Basic Law are only possible with a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag and Bundesrat. “That only succeeds if large sections of the opposition are convinced of the need for change.”
Buschmann wants to meet his Israeli colleague Jariv Levin on Tuesday. It is the first visit by a German minister to Israel since the new coalition under Netanyahu was sworn in at the end of last year. It is the most right-wing government the country has ever had.