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Israeli Supreme Court postpones recusal law’s implementation

Arguing that the law, an amendment to Basic Law: The Government limiting the conditions under which a sitting premier can be removed from office, the Court ruled that the law will only go into effect after elections.

The Israeli Supreme Court at a hearing on petitions against the "recusal law," Sept. 28, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
The Israeli Supreme Court at a hearing on petitions against the "recusal law," Sept. 28, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

Israel’s Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked the government’s “recusal law“—an amendment to Israel’s Basic Law: The Government—from taking effect until after new elections are held.

In its 6-5 ruling, the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, argued the law was “clearly a personal amendment” meant to shield Netanyahu from the consequences of violating a 2020 conflict of interest agreement, and therefore constituted an illegitimate abuse of the Knesset’s power to pass Basic Laws.

The delay was supported by former chief justice Esther Hayut, who retired from the bench in October but can still rule on cases for three months, and Acting President Uzi Vogelman, in addition to justices Isaac Amit, Daphne Barak-Erez, Anat Baron and Ofer Grosskopf.

Justices Noam Sohlberg, David Mintz, Yosef Elron, Yael Wilner and Alex Stein ruled to reject the petitions filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, an NGO involved in the anti-judicial reform movement, and opposition party Yisrael Beiteinu.

The “recusal law” limited the circumstances under which a sitting premier can be removed from his position.

Passed in March, the amendment stipulates that a prime minister can only be removed if physically or mentally incapable of fulfilling their duties, or if 75% of Cabinet ministers and 80 Knesset members requested that they be removed.

The law’s explanatory notes state that to remove a sitting prime minister under any other conditions would annul the election results and the democratic process.

Israeli Transportation Minister Miri Regev tweeted on Wednesday that, “In a democratic country, the prime minister is only elected at the ballot box.”

Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker Oded Forer said he “welcomes the fact that the court accepted the petition of Yisrael Beiteinu and ruled that the recusal law will only apply from the next Knesset, thereby preventing absurd situations.”

The government holds the position that the court has no authority to weigh in on Basic Laws, given their quasi-constitutional status.

However, in an unprecedented and controversial decision on Monday, the High Court struck down the so-called “reasonableness law,” an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary passed by the legislature earlier this year as part of Netanyahu’s now-shelved judicial reforms.

The Knesset passed the law in July in what its proponents saw as a long-overdue measure to restrain judicial activism and bring Israel’s court system in line with those of other parliamentary democracies.

The amendment prevented the courts from using “reasonability” as a pretext to overturn Knesset legislation. Reasonability essentially means whether the judges consider a given law “reasonable”—a standard even opponents of the law agree is vague.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party said it was “unfortunate that the High Court chose to publish a ruling at the heart of the societal debate in Israel, precisely when IDF soldiers on the [political] right and left are fighting and risking their lives in the campaign.”

The government had shelved its judicial reform plans following the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas.

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