Netanyahu’s ‘Big Lie’ Will End Rule of Law in Israel
JERUSALEM – Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, who is on trial for corruption, ended his first week back in office embroiled in two new legal complications of his own making.
On Thursday in the Supreme Court, he was forced to defend the appointment of a convicted tax fraud to two key posts, that of the Minister of the Interior and that of Health.
Hours earlier, across a Jerusalem rose garden in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, Netanyahu’s justice minister announced a colossal judicial review, widely seen as an attempt to overturn Israel’s system of government and save the skin of Netanyahu.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, an opponent of Netanyahu, told the Daily Beast that the justice reform was “a big lie covering up regime change.”
“He is trying to blackmail the country with threats to save himself from trial,” Barak said, adding that “it is a straight line from [Al] Caps where we are today.”
In an assessment echoed in some Israeli political and legal circles, Haaretz, a liberal daily, declared that Netanyahu’s “judicial reform” amounted to “a prime-time regime coup”.
By adopting the new judicial review, Haaretz’s political analyst wrote, it will result “in a government without any checks and balances, morals or restraints, that will do anything and everything that goes into its raw mind.”
In a speech on Wednesday night, Netanyahu himself said he would undertake a “fundamental review” of all government powers.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin said an urgent correction was needed after years of “rampant judicial overreach”.
“There are not only judges in Jerusalem,” said Levin, searching for a biblical phrase, “but the Knesset is also here.”
At the heart of Israel’s crisis is the fate of an indicted prime minister, in the middle of a trial, whose hold on power depends on a coalition with another party leader, Aryeh Deri, a convicted felon who served two years in prison. for corruption. in the early 2000s. He was also convicted of tax fraud in February 2022 and escaped prison as part of a plea deal in which he pledged to stay out of public life.
“The problem is that the Knesset is giving itself unlimited power,” said Amir Fuchs, a law professor affiliated with the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent Jerusalem think tank.
The result of Netanyahu’s proposed reforms would give a simple majority of 61 of the 120 Knesset members almost absolute power, without judicial review.
Thursday’s heated Supreme Court hearing, with an unusually large panel of eleven judges headed by Chief Justice Esther Hayut, addressed multiple petitions against Deri’s appointment to the key posts of interior minister and health minister.
“I think we need violence,” said Oren Moda’i, 62, a technician who took the day off work Thursday to join several hundred protesters outside the courthouse. “We have no other way. Not murder, not that kind of violence, but window-smashing like the ‘yellow yellows’ did in France. The problem is that the opposition has no leadership.”
Former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the opposition leader, left for a weekend in Paris on Thursday morning, amid significant criticism from his camp. He said Wednesday night that the government, “like a bunch of crooks,” had “put a loaded gun on the table. Yariv Levin did not propose reform, but a threat. They threaten to destroy the entire constitutional structure of the State of Israel.
A large anti-government rally is planned for Saturday night in Tel Aviv.
Among the reforms announced at a rushed last-minute press conference ahead of a Supreme Court hearing on Thursday are a law that allows a parliamentary majority to overturn supreme court rulings and another that eliminates the “standard of reasonableness,” Israel’s version of a court ruling. determination of unconstitutionality.
Under current Israeli law, for example, courts can disqualify as “unreasonable” any law that violates basic rights, such as segregation among school children.
The coalition agreements underpinning Netanyahu’s new coalition, which includes radical extremists and religious nationalists, contain a US-inspired “discrimination law” that would explicitly allow businesses and doctors to refuse service to individuals that offend their religious beliefs.
Additionally, Levin—in office less than a week—announced his intention to transform the Judicial Selection Committee into a primarily political entity, to turn the ministries’ legal advisers (currently career civil servants) into political appointees and to pass another law, excluding the high court from overturning the basic laws, the constitutional foundations of Israel.
Netanyahu’s new coalition numbers 64 members, most of whom serve in dual roles, as lawmakers and as ministers or executive branch officials. It is a position that the proposed changes will be passed into law within weeks.
Despite his victory in the November 2022 elections, Netanyahu risks losing public support over radical changes proposed by his cabinet, which are rejected by a solid Israeli majority. Sixty-four percent expect street demonstrations to take place against the government.
In a tweet late Wednesday night, Professor Ido Baum, Director of the Brandeis Institute for the Economy of Society and Democracy near Tel Aviv, said that Netanyahu’s judicial revolution “will be nothing short of a coup. Poland and Hungary will be here. It will transform Israel’s DNA from its foundations.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Fuchs said the result of Netanyahu’s reforms “is that the majority coalition will be able to do what it wants, turning Israel into a controversial, illiberal democracy like what you see in Poland and Hungary, in which the only protection left is the majority of the public, public opposition. The courts will no longer be able to protect LGBTQ rights, for example. The public must have its say.”
Fuchs said Israel’s future if reform passes is akin to “mob rule. Absolute majority rule. A hollow democracy with elections as the only defining characteristic.”
According to Israeli law, a minister, if accused of criminal charges, cannot remain in office. Netanyahu maintained his ability to serve as prime minister by arguing that the prime minister’s role was fundamentally different from that of a minister, giving him a loophole, but he remains liable to allegations of conflict of interest because of his judgment and involvement in the review. judicial.
In a second phase of the reforms, Levin is expected to create a new position, that of a public prosecutor who could decide not to prosecute Benjamin Netanyahu and decriminalize fraud and breach of trust, two of the three charges for which He was. sued, along with bribes.
“We are in a state of emergency – Netanyahu has to decide whether he wants to break the rules of the game or preserve the state of Israel,” said Benny Gantz, head of another opposition party, who called the “state of emergency”. spurred by the reform announced in justice, he requested the formation of a commission composed of coalition and opposition legislators.