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Three more judicial reform bills pass first reading in Knesset

One measure, dubbed the “override clause,” would allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws struck down by the Supreme Court.

The Knesset in Jerusalem, Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
The Knesset in Jerusalem, Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Three draft laws related to the government’s judicial reform program passed their first reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.

The first, coined “Deri Law 2.0,” passed by a vote of 62-53. It would prevent the Supreme Court from interfering in ministerial appointments.

Its purpose is to allow Aryeh Deri, chairman of the Shas Party, to return to the government as a cabinet member after the Supreme Court said on Jan. 18 that he could not serve as a minister, as his appointment was “unreasonable in the extreme.” The court cited Deri’s January 2022 plea bargain on tax-fraud charges. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently fired Deri.

The second bill, dubbed the “override clause,” would empower a 61-seat absolute majority of the Knesset to relegislate laws struck down by the Supreme Court as “unconstitutional.” Although Israel has no constitution, it has Basic Laws that have been treated as such by the court.

According to the draft law’s explanatory section: “If the bill is accepted, the intrusion of the Supreme Court into the political debate in the State of Israel will be prevented and thus the democratic principle will be strengthened according to which all government authorities in the country are subject to the will of the sovereign, the people, and the principle of the rule of law in all government branches.”

The bill argues that it will strengthen not only the Knesset but the Supreme Court, which has suffered a “sharp decline in public trust” due to its interference in the key political issues of the day and for its decisions that run “contrary to the laws of the Knesset and the will of the people.”

The third bill to pass its first reading would establish the Department of Internal Police Investigations (“Machash” in Hebrew) as an independent unit, taking it out from under the authority of the State Attorney’s Office.

The draft law was proposed by a member of Knesset Moshe Saada of the Likud Party, who served for seven years as deputy director of the police investigations unit.

The Knesset on Tuesday passed in first reading two other pieces of legislation related to the judicial reform plan following a noisy six-hour-plus debate.

The first bill seeks to amend Basic Law: The Judiciary so that the Supreme Court can’t invalidate basic laws, which are considered to have a quasi-constitutional status in Israel. The second bill would change the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee to give elected officials a majority in choosing judges for both the Supreme Court and lower courts.

‘This is the time to talk’

Throughout the evening, opposition and coalition Knesset members traded barbs as they mounted the podium. Some opposition legislators draped themselves in Israeli flags while heckling members of the government.

Lawmaker Ram Ben-Barak, from opposition leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, invoked the rise of the Nazis during the debate.

“This is worse than all the regimes that we don’t want to be like,” he said. “The Turks, Hungarians or Poles, and yes, I will say from this podium, Nazi Germany. They rose to power democratically.”

Earlier, protesters harassed several Israeli coalition lawmakers outside their homes in a bid to block them from reaching the Knesset.

Protest organizers had declared Monday a “national day of struggle” and held a large rally outside the Knesset along with marches in several cities. In response, Netanyahu harshly criticized the opposition, saying it had “gone off the rails.”

Lapid on Tuesday night rejected the prime minister’s offer to negotiate without preconditions over the government’s judicial reform proposals.

“Mr. Netanyahu. This is not the time for false slogans and spins. Instead of statements to the media, phone the president, let him know that you are stopping the legislative process and starting dialogue within the framework [he has presented],” he tweeted.

Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu reached out to the public, saying “this is the time to talk.”

“I hear the voices of the people. I hear those who are praising [the judicial reforms], and I also hear those who are concerned. When there are disagreements among us, it is possible and necessary to talk in order to reach agreements or at least reduce the disagreements among us,” he said.

Lapid last month called on President Isaac Herzog, whose role is that of national figurehead, to set up a committee to recommend a “balanced” plan to reform the judiciary. In response, the president two weeks ago presented five principles as “a basis for immediate and decisive negotiations that will arrange the relations between the government branches.”

The following day, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman urged opposition leaders to meet at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to discuss the reform program.

Lapid rejected that overture as well.

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