Middle East: Judicial reform in Israel clears another hurdle

Despite violent protests, the controversial judicial reform in Israel is making great strides.

Middle East: Judicial reform in Israel clears another hurdle

Despite violent protests, the controversial judicial reform in Israel is making great strides. On Tuesday night, the parliament in Jerusalem approved amendments to several key points in the first reading. Parliament can therefore revoke decisions of the Supreme Court with a simple majority in the future. This effectively undermines the court's ability to legally review laws.

Critics accuse the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wanting to weaken the country's independent judiciary. They see the separation of powers as a pillar of democracy in danger. Mass protests have been going on for weeks.

The crisis also overshadowed a visit by Netanyahu to Berlin. He will meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) there this Thursday. Protests are also expected in Berlin.

Government seeks fast track procedure

According to Israeli media reports, the government intends to push through the core elements of the controversial reform in fast-track procedures before the end of this month. Two more readings are needed for the changes to finally come into force. The restructuring of the judiciary could also play into Netanyahu's hands in a corruption case against him. The changes in the law are also being made under pressure from Netanyahu's strictly religious coalition partners.

The reform is also intended to make it more difficult for the Supreme Court to repeal laws that it judges violate a constitution. A majority of at least twelve out of 15 judges should be necessary for this. So far, a simple majority has sufficed.

Because Israel does not have a written constitution and the state is instead based on a set of basic laws, the Supreme Court is of particular importance in upholding the rule of law and human rights. Netanyahu's government argues that the Supreme Court currently wields too much political influence. His coalition is the furthest to the right the country has ever had.

New rules for incapacity of the head of government

Parliament also approved a first-reading amendment to the law that would make it significantly more difficult to declare a prime minister incapacitated. This would require a three-quarters majority in Parliament in the future. Only health reasons should be used as justification. The move is intended to prevent the Supreme Court or the Attorney General's Office from influencing the matter.

A non-governmental organization recently submitted a petition to the Supreme Court to have Netanyahu declared incapacitated over his corruption trial. From her point of view, the change in the law is tailored to his personal needs and is intended to protect him from the consequences.

Another goal of the reform is that politicians should have more influence in the appointment of judges. Netanyahu's government would then be the first to benefit and replace unwelcome judges.

"Bad, very bad situation"

There have been massive protests against the judicial reform for ten weeks, but efforts to find a compromise have so far been unsuccessful. There are increasing warnings that Israel is rapidly heading towards a dangerous state crisis. Israeli President Izchak Herzog said on Monday evening: "We are in a bad, very bad situation." An agreement must be reached with all power to lead Israel out of the crisis. He speaks to opponents and supporters of the reform. Herzog is expected to release a compromise proposal in the coming days. The opposition is demanding a complete halt to the project as a condition for negotiations.