Israel Supreme Court Draft Verdict: ‘No’ to Judicial Reform

Israeli media published a leak from Israel’s Supreme Court yesterday showing the court plans to stamp out the government’s effort to restrict its absolute veto power. The draft ruling passed in a razor-thin margin of 8 to 7. When confronted by media, the court stated the ruling was not yet final.

Why the hub-bub? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won Israel’s election last year with a mandate to reform the nation’s justice system. Critics claim the Supreme Court has obtained powers it was never meant to have by overstepping its jurisdiction and judicial activism.

The court has been able to veto any government law or action it considers “unreasonable”—based merely on the personal views of the justices. The “reasonableness” bill, enacted by Netanyahu’s government on July 24, was meant to strip the court’s veto based on that standard.

Of judges and justice: Unlike many Western democracies, Israel has no written constitution. For decades, the question in Israeli society has been whether ultimate power rests with the Knesset or the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu’s judicial reform was meant to demonstrate that supreme power lies with the Knesset. The court’s judicial review is its counterattack. But by overturning a law meant to curtail its own power, the court is confirming its opponents’ criticisms.

Where to now? The war with Hamas may distract the government from doing anything about this—for now. But Netanyahu is unlikely to back down. Both sides are digging in their heels. Even if Israel emerges strong from the Hamas war, these old divisions threaten to tear the nation apart.

Given the current crisis with Hamas, the court’s draft verdict could not have come at a worse time.

Learn more: Read “Sitting on the Banks of Israel’s Rubicon.”