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Knesset advances bill to nix ‘reasonableness’ standard

The bill’s text bars the standard as a legal justification for judges to reverse government decisions.

The Knesset plenum in Jerusalem. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
The Knesset plenum in Jerusalem. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The Knesset overnight Monday passed along partisan lines a bill to restrict the use of the “reasonableness” standard by the Supreme Court.

The bill was advanced by a vote of 64-56.

MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee said Sunday he would immediately prepare the bill for the two additional plenum votes necessary for it to become law.

The goal of the coalition is to pass the bill before the end of the summer session on July 29.

The legislation would bar “reasonableness” as a legal justification for judges to reverse decisions made by the Cabinet, ministers and “other elected officials as set by law.”

Critics say the standard is legally vague and has been used by the court to encroach upon the government’s authority. Opponents say the bill will erode Israel’s system of checks and balances and lead to an abuse of power.

The initiative “isn’t the end of democracy, but rather will strengthen democracy,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday in defense of the legislation.

“The rights of the courts and Israeli citizens will not be harmed in any way. The court will continue to monitor the legality of government decisions and appointments. [We] will be required to act in good faith and with proportionality, fairness and equality,” he added.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that the move would “enable an elected government to implement its policy according to the law. Unlike the opposition, which behaves irresponsibly and spreads incitement, we in the coalition act responsibly,” he said.

“We will continue to advance, with determination, necessary changes to the judicial system, as we promised the public before [last November’s] election and in accordance with the mandate we received from the people,” Smotrich continued.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid accused the government of “losing all restraint.”

“Canceling the judicial test of reasonableness [according to the bill] they have submitted to the Knesset confirms one thing: The law does not apply to them,” said Lapid.

“They can fire all the gatekeepers, from the attorney general on down, and switch them out for obedient puppets who will not interfere when they corrupt the country,” he added.

On Sunday, Lapid urged the Histadrut labor federation to declare another general strike, following its decision to partially shut down the country on March 27.

Organizers of protests against the reforms have planned a “day of disruption” on Tuesday, which will include “demonstrations, marches and convoys.”

Activists also intend to demonstrate at Ben-Gurion Airport. Police say they will prevent a repeat of the protest on July 3, when thousands of demonstrators tried to block traffic to the airport and succeeded in snarling movement, including at the arrival halls.

Cabinet ministers on Sunday assailed Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara for allowing, in their view, protesters to run rampant in a bid to paralyze the country.

“There can be no effective protest without disturbing the public order,” Baharav-Miara said at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by saying, “That’s a shocking sentence. Are you saying that besieging a barbershop from inches away is legitimate?” he asked, in a reference to his wife’s experience on March 1, when she had to be rescued by hundreds of police after being trapped in a hair salon for hours by anti-judicial reform protesters in Tel Aviv.

According to numbers provided by the Attorney General’s Office, only six indictments were handed down out of 572 arrests made at protests. Those six were for assaulting police officers.

The coalition’s decision to push ahead with judicial reform legislation came after compromise talks hosted by President Isaac Herzog stalled last month. (Legislation had been frozen since March to give the talks a chance to succeed.)

On Sunday, Herzog continued to insist an agreement was “attainable.” He said the decision of the sides to reject talks was “a blunder of historic proportions.”

Speaking during a state memorial for Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl, Herzog noted that Jews around the world are now observing a three-week period of mourning leading up to the anniversary of Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E. These days “demand of us to behave with dignity and responsibility, in issues that directly impact the unity of Israel, and the cohesion of Israeli society,” he said.

In June, Yesh Atid Party leader Lapid and National Unity Party head Benny Gantz announced that they were suspending the reform negotiations.

The move came after Yesh Atid lawmaker Karine Elharrar was voted onto the Judicial Selection Committee, satisfying a key opposition demand during talks over the initiative.

“Once Netanyahu was a fraud and strong. Today he’s a fraud and weak,” said Lapid at the time.

On Sunday, both Lapid and Gantz called for the resumption of talks, a sentiment echoed by Economy Minister Nir Barkat of Likud, who nonetheless noted that “it was the opposition that left the room” in the first place.

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