Israel Supreme Court strikes down judicial reformson January 1, 2024 at 7:47 pm

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The controversial plans triggered nationwide protests last year against Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

A protester with a megaphone stands in front of a cloud of smokeImage source, Getty Images

Israel’s Supreme Court has struck down a controversial judicial reform that triggered nationwide protests last year against the Netanyahu government.

The change would have limited the power of the Supreme Court in overturning laws it deemed unconstitutional.

Critics say it would have severely undermined the country’s democracy by weakening the judicial system.

There is strong opposition to the current Netanyahu government, seen as the most right-wing in Israeli history.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the law passed by the government in 2023 follows months of internal turmoil.

In July, the government passed into law what is now known as the “reasonableness” bill.

This removed the power of the Supreme Court and lower courts in Israel to cancel government decisions it deemed to be “extremely unreasonable”.

The law caused widespread anger and division, prompting hundreds of thousands of protesters to take the streets calling for the reforms to be scrapped – and for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Organisers said the weekly protests were the biggest street demonstrations in Israel’s history.

At the time, hundreds of military reservists – including air force pilots – threatened to refuse to report for service, which led to warnings that this could impair Israel’s military capabilities.

A statement from the Supreme Court said that 8 out of 15 judges ruled against the law, adding it would have caused “severe and unprecedented damage to the basic characteristics of the State of Israel as a democratic state”.

Israel’s justice minister and architect of the law Yariv Levin criticised the judges for “taking into their hands all the powers” and called their decision to strike it down undemocratic.

But opposition leader Yair Lapid welcomed the verdict, saying on X (formerly Twitter) that the country’s top court had “faithfully fulfilled its role in protecting the citizens of Israel”.

One of the organisers involved in last year’s large-scale protests against the law also welcomed the court’s ruling.

Shikma Bressler said in a video statement that the Supreme Court had for the moment removed “the sword of dictatorship from around our necks”.

The “reasonableness” law was part of a wider series of judicial reforms introduced by the Netanyahu government.

These would have weakened the power of the Supreme Court to review or throw out laws, enabling a simple majority of one in the Knesset (parliament) to overrule such decisions.

The government has also attempted to gain greater power over appointing judges, and to scrap the requirement for ministers to obey the advice of their legal advisers.

Mr Netanyahu has argued that the changes are required to redress the balance between the judges and the politicians.

The Supreme Court’s ruling threatens to further undermine confidence in his government. Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party said the decision opposed “the will of the people for unity, especially during wartime”.

Israel’s leadership has been under pressure domestically for its perceived failure for preventing Hamas’s attack on 7 October, and for so far proving unable to rescue all the Israeli hostages who were taken into Gaza.

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