A week after the formation of the government, and on the eve of the Supreme Court’s hearing regarding the possible disqualification of Shas leader Aryeh Deri from his ministerial positions, during which the Attorney General opposed his appointment on the grounds of unreasonableness, the new Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, announced the first phase of his reform plans for the judicial system. Levin claims he has worked on these reforms for many years and that their purpose is to strengthen governance, restore trust in the judicial system, democratize the government system, return sovereignty to the people, and prevent a small group of unelected judges without authority from deciding on important matters.
Levin criticized the “constitutional revolution” and “judicial activism” pioneered by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak. Levin tries to justify his plans with the need to maintain the balance between the branches of government and restore the legislative and executive branches to their position opposite the judicial branch.
Levin outlined the following changes he intends to implement:
- Changing the structure of the committees for the appointment of judges by adding two representatives of the public, who are appointed with the approval of the Minister of Justice.
- Regulating the issue of annulment of laws on behalf of the Supreme Court and forbidding the Court to annul laws through an almost full majority of the judiciary, as well as legislating a “Survival Clause,” which will allow the Knesset to re-enact laws that the Supreme Court annulled with a simple majority of 61 MKs.
- Abolition of the ground of “unreasonableness,” which limits the authority of the Supreme Court and prevents it from overturning administrative decisions and repealing laws.
- Limit the role of the legal advisors who work in the government to advise only and prevent them from making decisions, meaning that they will be subject to the authority of the minister and not gatekeepers of the law, who will not be subject to the instructions of the government’s legal advisor.
It is important to mention that at this stage Levin did not mention the issue of separating the roles of the Attorney General and Legal Advisor to the Government even though it is one of the issues that has been discussed a lot in recent years and is among the issues that could affect the conduct of the criminal proceedings against Prime Minister Netanyahu. It seems that they were postponed to the second stage.
The announcement of the plan started a wide and stormy debate, some called it a “coup” or “revolution,” a “demolition of the legal and political system” or “a declaration of war on the legal system.” At the same time there were those who defended the plan and defined it as an essential and urgent step that should have been carried out a long time ago.
We have already pointed out that the legal system in Israel serves the supreme goals of the Jewish state, as far as the Palestinian people in general and the Palestinian Arab residents of the country are concerned, for them there is no fundamental or structural change. On the contrary, the Supreme Court has approved many racist laws in recent years, such as the Nation-State Basic Law, Admissions Committees Law, Nakba Law, and Citizenship Law. The Supreme Court legally qualified the occupation and its actions, such as the separation wall, the settlements policy, house demolitions, and the policy of arrests and expropriation of Palestinians’ lands, among many others.
Despite this, the steps that the sixth Netanyahu government wants to take weaken the judicial system and at the same time give excessive power to the government and the Knesset. This is as a result of not having a constitution in Israel or the existence of one elected legislature. Therefore, the plan aims to concentrate power in the hands of the government, which controls the parliament and the judicial system, thereby harming the balance between the branches, the status of minorities and human rights, the fairness and independence of the legal system, and the public’s trust in it. It also harms the fringes of democracy and politicizes the process of appointing judges, threatens the judicial system, and harms the rights of Palestinian Arab society in Israel, which sees the Supreme Court in many cases as a last resort to protect its rights and invests in appealing to the court to raise awareness at the national and international level of the Palestinians’ rights, who are systematically and consistently violated.
Levin’s plan turns the judges into ordinary officials, it weakens and reduces their ability to interpret, limits them in fulfilling their main role, which is to decide on legal issues, particularly in discussions and disputes between the state and the citizens, and exercise judicial criticism of the state institutions.
It is clear that this plan receives the full backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently increased his aggression and criticisms against the legal system, after the latter filed indictments on charges of corruption, breach of trust, and accepting bribes and fraud, while receiving unprecedented backing and support from all elements of his racist coalition. The plan also works to change the legal and political system in Israel for the worse, and is directed towards tyranny, control, power, precision, and reducing the possibilities of criticism and intervention.
It is important to note that this plan was not born out of thin air but is the result of work and deep thought processes with the help of past ministers of justice, academics, conservative right-wing civil society organizations such as the Kohelet Policy Forum, and right-wing media outlets such as Mida.
By this plan, the Netanyahu government is following the same path followed by tyrannical, anti-democratic, populist regimes that adhere to majority rule (the injustices of the majority) while working to suppress freedoms and oppress minorities such as Orban’s Hungary, Putin’s Russia, Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Trump’s America, Andrei Duda’s Poland, Modi’s India and more.
It is important to emphasize in this limited context the dangers expected from this government, which are not limited to the weakening of the legal system, but also to its problematic right-wing, racist, messianic, settler, Kahanist, fascist, and religious fundamentalist ideological currents, which in combination, backed by Jewish national supremacy, flow more tools of control and power into the hands of the government, thereby making it dangerous and causing constant tension.
What is required of the human rights organizations, and in particular the Palestinian ones, is to meet and think collectively about the ways of dealing with this plan and its consequences for the Palestinian people in general, and the Palestinian Arab society in Israel in particular, and to coordinate with Israeli human rights organizations on all common issues, as well as to inform international organizations of the dangers expected from this government and the current legislative reforms that Minister Levin aims to carry out.