Benjamin Netanyahu vs. Israel’s Supreme Court

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Amir Levy/Getty Images

Benjamin Netanyahu vs. Israel’s Supreme Court

What will be the final verdict?

Israel is a country with unique security challenges. It faces risks of war with its neighbors in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza. The threat of intifada from Israel’s own Arab population hovers over Jerusalem. Iran’s nuclear program threatens to wipe Israel off the map. So it’s no surprise that, in his election campaign last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to beef up Israel’s security. He said in his victory speech in November he would be “very aggressive in protecting our security and in the search for peace with our neighbors—with concern for all citizens.”

Now that Netanyahu is once again Israel’s prime minister, he can put his security promises into action. In the few weeks since he’s returned to office, he has already started a very public battle. But this battle is not with Hamas or Hezbollah. It’s with the Israeli Supreme Court.

Netanyahu made promises to give the government more oversight on both Supreme Court appointments and decisions. Currently, justices are accepted to the bench by a nine-member committee. On this committee, representatives of the government form a minority. Netanyahu’s proposed reforms would give the government majority representation on the appointment panel.

More controversial are Netanyahu’s plans to give the Knesset the right to annul Supreme Court decisions. Under his proposal, the Knesset could block rulings with a simple majority vote. The court could then only veto such decisions if its 15 justices unanimously agree.

Many claim these plans mean “democracy is under attack” in Israel. Israeli President Isaac Herzog (who has a ceremonial role and is not directly elected by the people) claimed on February 12 that Israel is “on the brink of constitutional and societal collapse.”

An executive branch of a country going after its judicial branch can look concerning. One of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy is a separation of powers between the different branches of government. But in Israel’s case, the executive branch is not the branch to fire the first shots in this war.

Israel’s judicial system has been notorious for overstepping its boundaries. Through creeping activism and pushing the bounds of its jurisdiction, the Israeli Supreme Court has far more power than the average supreme court. It can veto new laws and even cabinet appointees based on “reasonability.” It has basically become an oligarchic body overseeing the entirety of Israel’s government. It is unaccountable to the electorate and determines its own legal restraints. Many Israelis are fed up with the court’s disproportionate levels of power, as can be seen in Israel Hayom mockingly asking on February 10, “Would the Ten Commandments Have Survived the Israeli Supreme Court?

Giving the government more say in the court’s composition or what kinds of verdicts it could pass could rein in the court’s politicization. And Netanyahu said in a January 31 cnn interview he is open for compromise in his judicial reform plans.

An example of the court’s overreach happened last month. On January 18, the Supreme Court voted to block Arye Deri from serving in Netanyahu’s cabinet. Deri had previously been convicted of tax offenses. This normally would have barred him from serving the government per Israel’s Basic Laws (quasi-constitutional laws). The Knesset legislated an exemption for him through updating the law last year. But this didn’t stop the court from determining the old law to be still valid. The decision was the scale of Deri’s past behavior meant it “reasonable” to apply the old law without the exemption. Netanyahu complied and removed Deri from the Interior and Health ministries.

Whatever one’s opinions are regarding this controversial appointment, the Supreme Court should not be the body to bar Deri’s appointment. It overruled the legislature’s own exemption to a law—a law that only has power because the legislature gave it that power in the first place. The court has been guilty of such judicial overreaches for decades.

Netanyahu has been in politics for a long time. He has made many enemies along the way. The Supreme Court may not be the biggest among them, but it has had its fair share of headbutting with Netanyahu. If the court’s power is curtailed, this could give the prime minister much more leeway in implementing his program.

Israel faces numerous challenges threatening its very survival. Iran is closer than ever to adding nuclear weapons to its arsenal. Arab violence within both Israel proper and the West Bank seem to occur weekly. Israel has had to deal with frequent government collapses and early elections. You could add judicial overreach and activism to the list of problems. Since November, however, the tide appears to be turning. Benjamin Netanyahu has returned to power with his most stable coalition in a long time. Israel’s runaway Supreme Court could be another problem reined in soon.

The Trumpet relies on several biblical prophecies to analyze current events in the State of Israel. Various prophecies describe Israel’s troubles as “rottenness” (Hosea 5:12) and a “wound” (verse 13). And when Israel falls, it will fall hard (verse 5).

However, the Bible also prophesies that the State of Israel will experience temporary respite from its troubles—and even have a resurgence. Netanyahu hasn’t held the premiership for long, but signs of such a resurgence are already apparent.

To learn more, read an article from our January 2023 issue, “Bibi Is Back.” Also read “Israel’s Rogue Supreme Court” to learn more about the Supreme Court’s power grab and what it means for Israel.