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HISTORIC: Israeli Knesset Approves Judicial Overhaul in First Reading

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on Tuesday for the first time advanced a plan to overhaul the country’s legal system, with the Knesset approving of the plan in the first of three readings.

The 63-47 vote after midnight gave initial approval to a plan that would give Netanyahu’s coalition more power over who becomes a judge. It is part of a broader package of changes that seeks to weaken the country’s Supreme Court and transfer more power to the ruling coalition.

Netanyahu’s allies say these changes are needed to rein in the powers of an unelected judiciary. Critics fear that judges will be appointed based on their loyalty to the government or prime minister — and say that Netanyahu, who faces trial on corruption charges, has a conflict of interest in the legislation.

The showdown has plunged Israel into one of its most bitter domestic crises, with both sides insisting that the future of democracy is at stake.

The legislators cast their votes after a vitrolic debate that dragged on past midnight. During the session, opposition lawmakers chanted, “shame,” and wrapped themselves in the Israeli flag — and some were ejected from the hall.

Thousands were rallying outside the Knesset, waving Israeli flags and holding signs reading “saving democracy!” Earlier in the day, protesters launched a sit-down demonstration at the entrance of the homes of some coalition lawmakers and briefly halted traffic on Tel Aviv’s main highway.

Netanyahu accused the demonstrators of violence and said they were ignoring the will of the people who voted his coalition into power last November.

“The people exercised their right to vote in the elections and the people’s representatives will exercise their right to vote here in Israel’s Knesset. It’s called democracy,” Netanyahu said, though he left the door open for dialogue on the planned changes.

The vote on part of the legislation is just the first of three readings required for parliamentary approval, a process that is expected to take months.

Nonetheless, the opposition, including tens of thousands of protesters in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, saw Monday’s vote as the coalition’s determination to barrel ahead.

The debate raged Monday from the floor of the Knesset to flag-waving demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Simcha Rothman, the lawmaker leading the legislative initiative, presented the proposal to the Knesset. Overhead in the viewing gallery, a spectator banged on the protective glass and was carried away by guards.

A fellow Religious Zionism party politician posted a photo on Twitter with Rothman ahead of the vote, celebrating with whisky and sushi.

Last week, some 100,000 people demonstrated outside the Knesset as a committee granted initial approval to the plan. On Monday, the crowds returned, waved Israeli flags, blew horns, and held signs reading “saving democracy.”

Earlier in the day, protesters launched a sit-down demonstration at the entrance of the homes of some coalition lawmakers and briefly halted traffic on Tel Aviv’s main highway. Hundreds waved Israeli flags in the seaside city and further up the coast in Haifa, holding signs reading “resistance is mandatory.”

The parliamentary votes seek to grant the ruling coalition more power over who becomes a judge. Today, a selection committee is made up of politicians, judges and lawyers. The new system would give coalition lawmakers control over the appointments.

A second change approved Monday would bar the Supreme Court from overturning what are known as “Basic Laws,” pieces of legislation that stand in for a constitution, which Israel does not have.

Also planned are proposals that would give the Knesset the power to overturn Supreme Court rulings and control the appointment of government legal advisers.

Critics also fear the overhaul will grant Netanyahu an escape route from his legal woes. Netanyahu has been on trial for nearly three years for charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. He denies wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a biased judicial system on a witch hunt against him.

Israel’s attorney general has barred Netanyahu from any involvement in the overhaul, saying his legal troubles create a conflict of interest. Instead, his justice minister, a close confidant, is leading the charge.

On Sunday, Netanyahu called the restrictions on him “patently ridiculous.”


4 Responses

  1. Will the US people through Congress pass similar reforms in America? Maybe Israel is a light unto the nations when it comes to reacting to misguided judges?

  2. This is exactly the mandate they received from the voters to curb supreme court power, so kudos to the 63 MK voters who voted the will of the Israeli public, and the heck with these evil liberal demonstrators>>> trouble makers:- Rift Raft

  3. The real issue here, is that since the courts have taken the liberty of empowering themselves to unilaterally review and strike down laws, they almost certainly will strike down this law.

  4. In Israel there is no such thing as a constitution, and judges cannot say that a law violates the country’s constitution. But yet they do it anyway. As far as choosing judges, in the US the President nominates judges and the Senate confirms them. When Republicans are in control, they suggest judges with their constitutional philosophy and Democrats do the same when they are in control, and that is how all supreme court justices are selected. Current judges have no say whatsoever on who will join them on the court since they were not elected by the people. In Israel you have an undemocratic system where the majority of the judicial selection committee are unelected members of the current judiciary and unelected members of the legal establishment, not the elected representatives of the people. That needs to change

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