Wednesday, 7th June 2023

Israel’s controversial legal reform plan: what are the proposals?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday faced growing calls to halt his hard-right government's judicial overhaul...

A protester is detained outside Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem amid ongoing demonstrations and calls for a general strike against the hard-right government’s controversial push to overhaul the justice system, on March 27, 2023. (Photo by HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday faced growing calls to halt his hard-right government’s judicial overhaul, after firing the defence minister who had broken ranks over the divisive legislation.

President Isaac Herzog urged an immediate stop to the reform package “for the sake of the unity of the people of Israel” following more protests and declaration of a general strike, days before parliament goes into recess.

Netanyahu and his allies say the reforms are necessary to correct an imbalance that has given judges and legal advisers too much power over elected officials.

Attempts to broker dialogue between the coalition and opposition have failed since Justice Minister Yariv Levin first announced the reforms in January.

Here are the main elements of the proposed legislation:

Override clause

Critics of Israel’s top court argue judges have exceeded their authority by claiming the right to strike down legislation.

In response, the Netanyahu government wants to implement a clause which would allow parliament to override Supreme Court rulings.

It passed a first vote in parliament, but requires two more readings in the chamber to become law.

Other proposed measures would bar the court from striking down any amendments to the so-called Basic Laws, Israel’s quasi-constitution, and require a unanimous decision by all judges to invalidate other pieces of legislation.

Opponents have warned these measures would give the legislative branch nearly unchecked authority.

Naming judges

Netanyahu’s coalition also wants to change the system through which judges are appointed, giving the government a de facto majority in the nomination process.

Currently, top jurists are chosen by a panel overseen by the justice minister that includes judges, lawmakers and lawyers representing the Israeli Bar Association.

Under the government’s plan and other proposed compromises the bar association members would be removed from the process.

An amended version of Levin’s proposal, endorsed by lawmakers in late March, would put more deputies and members of the judiciary in the judicial appointments panel than the initial text, while maintaining the coalition’s majority.

The proposal awaits final votes by the full chamber, which Netanyahu had vowed would happen this week.

A separate piece of legislation would change the way the Supreme Court’s president is selected, giving the government a greater say on the appointment.

Opponents have accused Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charge he denies, of trying to use the reforms to quash possible judgements against him. The prime minister has rejected the accusation.

Legal advisers

Levin’s proposal also envisages curbing the authority of legal advisers attached to government ministries.

Currently, their guidance has quasi-legal force, as Supreme Court judges cite it when ruling on the propriety of government actions, but the proposal would change that and make their advice nonbinding.

While lawmakers have yet to vote on the bill, on Thursday they adopted legislation condemned by critics as another move to diminish the authority of civil servants.

Parliament voted to strictly limit the grounds for declaring a premier unfit for office, which the opposition called a “personal law” to protect Netanyahu.

Israel’s Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said over the weekend that Netanyahu’s actions on the judicial reform may place him in conflict of interests due to his ongoing trial.


Levin’s plan would also prevent judges from using the so-called “reasonability” clause to strike down legislation.

Critics of the court, notably on the right, point to this as among the most grave examples of judicial overreach.

In a recent high-profile decision to prohibit a Netanyahu ally from serving in cabinet, some Supreme Court judges said it would not be “reasonable” for Aryeh Deri to join the government given a previous tax evasion conviction.

Netanyahu was forced to fire Deri, even if there was no law that directly barred him from serving, but the premier criticised judges for overruling the will of voters.

A separate bill awaiting final votes in parliament would strip the court of the authority to challenge ministerial appointments.