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Coalition heads: Supreme Court cannot strike down Basic Laws

In an interview, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that his government intends to shelve large parts of its judicial reform plans.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, party heads and government ministers attend a meeting on the state budget, May 23, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, party heads and government ministers attend a meeting on the state budget, May 23, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel’s Supreme Court has no authority to strike down semi-constitutional Basic Laws or force a prime minister to recuse himself, coalition party heads proclaimed on Sunday.

“The court does not have the authority to annul Basic Laws or to rule that a Basic Law will enter into force at a later date,” party leaders said in a joint statement published by Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s spokesperson.

Earlier on Sunday, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, sitting as the High Court of Justice, issued a temporary injunction against the “recusal law” passed by the Knesset in March.

The court set a hearing for Sept. 28, at which the government will need to argue why the law should take effect immediately and not after the next Knesset is sworn in.

The amendment to Israel’s Basic Law: The Government limits the circumstances under which a sitting premier can be removed from office. It stipulates that only the Cabinet, 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 coalition’s response echoed similar remarks by Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, a member of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, who on Sunday said that “the judicial branch has no authority to deliberate [on] the validity, application and content of Basic Laws.”

“This is the exclusive authority of the Knesset, in which the elected representatives of the entire Israeli public sit, who will give an account to it and ask for its trust in elections,” said Ohana. “Therefore, in the absence of any legal authorization, and for the sake of democracy, the court must respect the Knesset’s decisions,” he concluded.

The “recusal law” is part of a government initiative to reform Israel’s judicial system.

On July 24, the Knesset voted to remove the “reasonableness standard,” a legal principle that allowed the Supreme Court to overturn laws based on what judges consider “acceptable.”

Other bills advancing through the Knesset would alter the way judges are appointed and removed, give the Knesset the ability to override certain Supreme Court rulings and change the way legal advisers are appointed to government ministries.

However, in an interview with Bloomberg on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated that his government intends to shelve large parts of its judicial reform plans. “We’ve already done quite a bit,” Netanyahu conceded to the financial news outlet.

Netanyahu said he plans to move ahead with changing the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee, which is responsible for appointing new justices to the Supreme Court. “[T]hat’s basically what’s left. Because other things, I think, we should not legislate,” the prime minister was quoted as saying.

The coalition is still seeking a broad consensus on the issue, added Netanyahu.

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