Renewed Action in Israeli Judicial Reform

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Policy Briefs Program

July 11, 2023

On Saturday, July 8, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli government’s renewed push for judicial overhaul. This movement was the largest anti-government protest in weeks, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had suspended justice reform talks in late March. On Monday, July 10, Netanyahu’s coalition won the first of three votes on the new bill. The legislation would need “to pass two more readings in order to become law, and the coalition aims to complete that process before the Knesset breaks for the summer at the end of the month.” Regional sources analyze responses to this legislative development: 

According to the Jerusalem Post, this bill would amend the Basic Law and “block Israel’s courts from applying what is known as the ‘reasonableness standard’ to decisions made by elected officials. The reasonableness standard is a common law doctrine that allows for judicial review against government administrative decisions that are deemed beyond the scope of what a responsible and reasonable authority would undertake.” For example, the reasonableness standard was used in January by the Court, when it ruled that Netanyahu’s “decision to appoint Shas chairman Arye Deri to two ministerial positions, interior and health – despite his three criminal convictions for bribery, tax fraud, and breach of trust as a former interior minister – was ‘unreasonable in the extreme.’” The use of the reasonableness standard ultimately led to Netanyahu being forced to fire Deri.

Arab News writes that the bill is being revisited despite the “stiff opposition and growing international criticism – including from US President Joe Biden” – that caused Netanyahu to pause talks in March. However, now with “Israel’s two main opposition leaders, Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, pulling out of negotiations, Netanyahu has now made a fresh bid to pass the legislation in parliament.”

Ahsarq Al-Awsat reports that Netanyahu made several changes to the original bill including, “scrapping some of the originally proposed changes, such as a clause that would have allowed parliament to override a court ruling.” Many in the ruling coalition see this bill as necessary due to their perception of “the bench as left-leaning, elitist and too interventionist in the political sphere, often putting minority rights before national interests and assuming authority that should only be in the hands of elected officials.” The opposition, however, “believe democracy is in danger. Many fear that even as he argues his innocence in a long-running corruption trial, Netanyahu and his hard-right government will curb judicial independence, with serious diplomatic and economic fallout.”

These developments led protestors to pack “Tel Aviv and other cities on Saturday to demonstrate against proposed legal reforms they say could mean more authoritarian government,” explains Gulf News. Israeli media “estimated turnout at Saturday’s protest in Tel Aviv – the 27th since the reform agenda was unveiled in January – at 150,000.”

Protests will continue this Tuesday, July 11, with a “Day of Resistance” where, according to Jerusalem Post, “protesters will hold ‘demonstrations, marches, convoys, and disruptions throughout the country.’” This will be followed by a mass protest “outside Ben-Gurion Airport, and additional demonstrations and marches are to continue in the evening.”

Al Arabiya covered Netanyahu’s response to the protests. Netanyahu acknowledged: “it was ‘unthinkable’ that the government would abridge the right to demonstrate or support any violence against protesters. But he argued such freedom should not be extended to ‘violations of the law that harm the basic rights of millions of citizens and are taking place on an almost daily basis,’ citing as examples the disruptions at Ben Gurion Airport, closures of main roads and the heckling of elected officials by protesters.”

Protests have taken other forms as well. The Times of Israel notes that “Big Shopping Centers said the two dozen malls it operates nationwide would be shuttered Tuesday if the bill clears its first reading, denouncing the proposal as ‘another step on the path to dictatorship.’” The announcement by Big was “denounced by coalition members, with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir calling for a boycott of Big’s malls until it apologizes.” Following the calls for boycott, “numerous tech firms and startups announced they would start buying supplies for their businesses at Big and not purchase from any company that sues the shopping mall operator over the strike.” Along with Big and numerous tech companies, “over a hundred academic staff members and students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem declared their support for the protests in an open letter published Sunday.”

Other groups standing in solidarity with the protestors include 1,100 recruits from Unit 8200 – the largest unit in the Israeli Defense Forces, according to Al Mayadeen. The recruits “have warned that they would desert their voluntary service in the reserve force if the proposed judicial amendments are approved.” A letter was sent out by the recruits that said: “‘In recent months, the Israeli government has taken various steps that have turned Israel into a dark dictatorship. Therefore, together with a large number of reservists in other military units, we intend to stop voluntary service.’”

These events have “stirred fears for Israel’s democratic health and dented the economy, with the shekel falling more than 5 percent since it began,” in the opinion of Al Jazeera


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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