This weekend there was a new and widespread protest in Israel against the disputed justice reform proposed by the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, on which the Israeli parliament will start voting today. Justice reform has been the most discussed political issue in Israel for months, and has regularly been the focus of extensive and exceptional protests: it plans to remove some powers from the Supreme Court to entrust them to the government, and for this reason those who oppose it consider it a threat to democracy.
Monday’s vote regard a first law that would deprive the Israeli Supreme Court of the power to block the decisions of the government in office on the basis of the legal concept of “unreasonableness”. It is an instrument that in recent years the Court he used on multiple occasionsfor example by preventing Netanyahu from assigning the economy ministry to an ally who had been convicted of tax fraud.
In anticipation of today’s vote in the Knesset (Israel’s unicameral parliament) hundreds of thousands of people mobilized throughout Israel over the weekend. Tens of thousands arrived in Jerusalem with a procession that started from Tel Aviv, about 70 kilometers away: the procession, which lasted four days despite the heat, ended in front of the Knesset entrance, where thousands of people camped in tents. Hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities.
Once again the protest involved the military. More than a hundred top security officials, including retired military commanders, police commissioners and heads of intelligence agencies, signed a letter on Saturday calling on Netanyahu to withdraw his reform proposal. Between signatories there were Moshe Yaalon, former Israeli defense minister, and Ehud Barak, former prime minister. Also on Saturday, another 10 thousand reservists have threatened to resign in protest against justice reform. Reservists are an important part of the Israeli military, which is often called upon to perform military duties even in peacetime.
Their adhesion to the protests, and more generally that of the military environment, is an exceptional and unprecedented fact: normally the military keep away from political disputes and are mostly pro-government.
In addition to the rule on the legal concept of “unreasonableness”, Netanyahu’s justice reform also provides for the introduction of new rules to reform the commission that appoints judges to the Supreme Court and lower courts. Currently the judges are selected by a commission of nine members of which only four, ie the minority, are chosen by the government. The reform would bring the number of members of the commission that selects new judges to 11, and the members of political appointment to eight: in this way, the government would essentially have control over the appointment of judges. However, this second part of the reform is still far from being discussed by the Knesset.
Netanyahu leads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, and the justice reform he has proposed is dividing Israeli society very deeply. Netanyahu and his supporters believe that the reform is necessary to limit the power of unelected judges over the decisions of the elected government: Netanyahu has argued on several occasions that it is excessive power and that it is instrumentally used for political ends, to hinder the activity of his government.
Opponents, on the other hand, believe that Netanyahu’s reform radically threatens the balance of powers capable of guaranteeing the stability of democracy. There is no constitution in Israel, and there are only a few Fundamental laws which establish individual rights and the relationship between citizens and the state. For this reason, the Supreme Court has an exceptionally important role in the political life of Israel, and according to those who oppose the reform, the removal of power would eliminate one of the few counterweights to the power of the incumbent government.