War between Israel and Hamas, humanitarian crisis in Gaza

An aerial view shows Israel’s Supreme Court on the morning it is scheduled to discuss petitions against new legislation that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious nationalist coalition approved as part of a plan to reform the judiciary, in Jerusalem, on 12 September 2023. Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters

Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday struck down a controversial government plan to limit the powers of the judiciary, in an unprecedented move that reignited fierce tensions in the country as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wages war against Hamas in Gaza.

The court ruled, by eight votes to seven, that a government amendment to the so-called reasonableness law should not stand. The bill had stripped the Supreme Court of the power to declare government decisions unreasonable and was the first major piece of a multi-pronged effort to weaken the judiciary that was approved by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, last year.

The verdict reopened an emotional and heated debate that had raged in Israel throughout 2023, but was put aside following the Hamas attacks on October 7. And it could cause divisions within Israel’s war cabinet, made up of Netanyahu and two prominent critics of his efforts to reform the courts.

Netanyahu’s next steps will be closely followed by all parties, with the threat of a looming constitutional crisis if he tries to go ahead with the controversial change.

In its ruling, the court said it rejected the amendment because it would deal a “severe and unprecedented blow to the core characteristics of the State of Israel as a democratic state.”

The law, which went into effect after its passage in July, stripped the court of its power to veto government decisions as “unreasonable.” Large sections of Israel’s population opposed the change, according to opinion polls, which critics said would erode the independence of the courts and harm Israel’s democracy.

Among those opposed to the plans were the two members of Netanyahu’s war cabinet. Yoav Gallant, Minister of Defense, became the first member of Netanyahu’s pre-war cabinet to publicly oppose his plans in March, leading to his temporary dismissal before being reinstated. And Benny Gantz, leader of Israel’s opposition National Unity party, led protests against the efforts earlier this year.

Following Monday’s verdict, Gantz said the court’s decision “must be respected.”

“These are not days for political discussions, today there are no winners or losers. Today we only have one common goal: to win the war together,” he stated.
“After the war, we will be asked to regulate the relationship between authorities and enact a basic law that will also anchor the status of basic laws.”

Read more reactions to the ruling.

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