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Israeli lawmakers pass bill stripping Supreme Court of oversight

The White House has expressed concerns over the proposal as it encouraged Israel to use a "consensus-based approach."
Israeli lawmakers pass bill stripping Supreme Court of oversight
Posted at 10:05 AM, Jul 24, 2023

Israel's Knesset on Monday passed a controversial bill that overhauls the country's judicial oversight, giving more power to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and allies. 

The bill was approved by legislators by a 64-0 margin, with 56 members of the opposition not voting as part of a boycott. The White House has expressed concern over the legislation, encouraging Israel to use a "consensus-based approach" toward judicial reforms. The White House said that President Joe Biden expressed his opinion to Netanyahu about the bill in a call last week. The Biden administration continued with its stance in a statement Monday.

"President Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that major changes in a democracy to be enduring must have as broad a consensus as possible," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. "It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority. We understand talks are ongoing and likely to continue over the coming weeks and months to forge a broader compromise even with the Knesset in recess."

The law removes the Israeli Supreme Court's reasonableness standard. The court's reasonableness standard has given judges the power to remove appointments considered unreasonable. 

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Unlike in the U.S. where the president has broad power over governing, the president of Israel performs more of a ceremonial role. With a weakened judiciary, the Knesset now has broader power, says Jon B. Alterman, senior vice president with the Centers for Strategic and International Studies. 

"The Knesset now has given itself the power to do whatever it wants to do, and in a parliamentary system, the prime minister represents the majority in the parliament, so you really have a majority that is unchecked in what it can do, to advantage itself permanently, to disadvantage some people permanently," Alterman told Scripps News. "This is a huge inflection point in Israeli history."

Those who oppose the bill say it could lead to corruption. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said he offered alternatives, but ultimately those were rejected. 

“Never in the state's history has there been such a display of complete abdication of responsibility," he said. "The reality is that you are letting the country fall apart. The coalition wants to legislate a rift in the people — belligerent and violent legislation that will inflict critical harm upon the Supreme Court, Israeli society, security, the economy, and our unity as a people."

Yair added: "If you vote in favor of this legislation, you are hastening the end of the nation, you are harming the State of Israel's security. If you vote in favor of this bill, you are weakening the State of Israel, the people of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces."

But Simcha Rothman, the chair of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, argued that recent political events necessitated the change. 

"We are after five elections in three years, [elections] that were a result of a crisis of trust in the Israeli political system. The reason we are in the midst of such a severe crisis of trust is the lack of trust in the government institutions, which was, unfortunately, created by the Supreme Court," Rothman said. “This is unavoidable. We told ourselves that we would legislate here, and the High Court of Justice would annul; that the Government would make a decision, and the High Court of Justice would cancel it. We carried on like this for too long, and the result did not lead to more moderateness, but rather to radicalization."

Reporting from Scripps News' Haley Bull contributed to this report.

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