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High Court ends marathon hearing over law shielding premier from ouster

The justices did not indicate when they would rule on the petitions.

The Supreme Court weighs in on a Basic Law shielding Israel's prime minister from removal, Aug. 3, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
The Supreme Court weighs in on a Basic Law shielding Israel's prime minister from removal, Aug. 3, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

A five-hour hearing in Israel’s Supreme Court over the legality of a semi-constitutional amendment that bars judges from ordering a prime minister to recuse himself from office ended on Thursday without a decision.

Supreme Court president Esther Hayut, and justices Uzi Vogelman and Yitzhak Amit, did not indicate when they would rule on the petitions against the law.

The amendment to Israel’s Basic Law: The Government, which the Knesset passed in March, stipulates that only the government, and not the court or the attorney general, has the authority to declare a sitting prime minister unfit to serve, and then only in cases of physical or mental incapacity.

The amendment’s explanatory notes state that declaring a prime minister unfit while he is physically and mentally able to fulfill his duties annuls the election results and the democratic process.

The petitions against the law were filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, an NGO heavily involved in the protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform plans and opposition party Yisrael Beiteinu.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has sided with the petitioners and asked the court to invalidate the amendment, claiming it was passed as a personal bill, that is, to improve Netanyahu’s legal situation. It’s the first time an Israeli attorney general has come out against a Basic Law.

The government argues that the petitions should be rejected on the grounds that the Supreme Court has no authority to intervene in Basic Laws, as the court’s power to strike down legislation derives from such laws, which have a quasi-constitutional force. Critics say it is equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court declaring a constitutional amendment unconstitutional.

The last Israeli prime minister removed from office for medical reasons was Ariel Sharon. Ehud Olmert temporarily served as premier after Sharon, then 78, suffered a massive stroke on Jan. 4, 2006.

The Israeli Cabinet declared Sharon permanently incapacitated on April 11. Sharon remained in a vegetative state until his death in 2014.

Olmert stepped down from the office in 2008 ahead of his own indictment for corruption. He was later convicted and served two-thirds of a 27-month prison sentence.

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