For a country that prides itself on being a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, the constitutional convulsions that have erupted in Israel in recent days will be deeply embarrassing for many Israelis.
Having formed arguably the most right-wing government in the 75-year history of the Zionist state, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has used his latest stint in office as an opportunity to launch a controversial reform programme which critics claim, if enacted, would severely limit the powers of Israel’s Supreme Court.
Netanyahu’s coalition — a collection of right-wing, ultranationalist, and ultra-Orthodox parties — is determined to press ahead with legislation that aims to weaken the court’s ability to serve as a check on parliament, as well as give the government control over the appointment of judges.
Netanyahu wants to limit the Israeli Supreme Court’s powers to rule against the legislature and the executive, which would allow the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of votes. The effect would be to neuter the independence of the court.
The proposal has not only caused a national outcry in Israel, where the country has been brought to a standstill by a wave of strikes that has already grounded flights in and out of the country’s main airport. Netanyahu has even been forced to postpone a planned visit to London after Israeli pilots refused to fly him.
It has also attracted fierce criticism from abroad, with US President Joe Biden expressing his “concern” over the Israeli government’s plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system.
“The President also underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship” https://t.co/8uHT7HkUii— Andrew Weinstein (@Weinsteinlaw) March 19, 2023
A statement issued by the White House following Biden’s call with Netanyahu, which was described as “candid and constructive” said the president had “underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship, that democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”
Netanyahu’s move to curb the powers of the judiciary has provoked arguably the biggest political controversy of a politician who, despite becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, now finds his judgement under attack from many quarters.