Netanyahu defends judicial reforms in Israel after protests

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has slammed back criticism of his plans for a sweeping reform of the country’s judiciary, claiming it would spell the end of democracy as “baseless”.

Thousands of people took to the streets in Tel Aviv’s liberal bastion on Saturday night to protest Netanyahu’s new government – widely regarded as the most right-wing in Israeli history – which took office last month and the containment of the judiciary becoming one of its own made priorities.

At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu defended plans unveiled last week that would give the government and its allies control over the appointment of judges and allow a simple majority in parliament to overrule decisions by Israel’s top court repealing laws to put .

“We received a clear and strong mandate from the public to implement what we promised during the elections and we will do that,” he said. “That is the implementation of the voters’ will, and that is the essence of democracy.”

Far-right politicians and ultra-religious groups, with whom Netanyahu built his governing coalition, have long called for an overhaul of the judiciary, arguing that it has gradually assumed powers it had never been granted before and used them to create a partisan to advance the leftist agenda.

However, critics of the government’s plans – which include the opposition, legal and judicial groups and civil rights groups – see them as a brazen attack on Israel’s checks and balances.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended plans unveiled last week that would give the government and its allies control over judge appointments © Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AP

In a series of television interviews aired on Saturday, Aharon Barak, who headed Israel’s Supreme Court from 1995 to 2006, compared the plans to attacks on judicial independence carried out by authoritarian governments in Poland, Hungary and Turkey and warned of the proposed changes as “fertilizer that will lead to the growth of the tyranny of the majority”.

The plan to weaken the powers of the Israeli Supreme Court has drawn particular criticism as it represents one of the Israeli governments’ most important controls. Parliament has no second chamber to review or block laws, the president has no veto power, and Israel has no constitution.

In an interview with Channel 12 News, Barak said if the Supreme Court’s power to oversee the judiciary were to be eroded there was a risk that citizens’ human rights would be endangered, adding that overall the proposals ‘pose a clear and tangible threat to Israeli democracy “.

“When the Knesset passes a discriminatory, racist law . . . then you need someone with the power to say that you, the Knesset, have passed a racist law that contradicts it [principles of Israel’s] Declaration of Independence that says there will be no racism,” he said.

The plans were also heavily criticized by Gali Baharav-Miara, Israel’s Attorney General, who warned last month that Israel would be “left behind on the principle of majority rule alone if they go into effect.” That and nothing more, democracy in name but not in substance.”

Netanyahu insisted that the proposed changes would be discussed “seriously and thoroughly” and that “all opinions – without exception – will be heard”. Netanyahu defends judicial reforms in Israel after protests

Adam Bradshaw

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