Explained: Why Israelis are protesting against Netanyahu’s ‘legal coup’?

Explained: Why Israelis are protesting against Netanyahu’s ‘legal coup’?

Updated: 1 month, 4 days, 8 hours, 15 minutes, 36 seconds ago

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo credit: AFP)

Netanyahu’s ultranationalist, far-right coalition government has brought a bill in the Knesset to carry out judicial reforms which critics believe will undermine Israel’s democracy

The story 

A slew of legal reforms proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has triggered mass protests with tens of thousands of Israelis staging demonstrations, including outside the Knesset, the country’s Parliament.

In some of the biggest pro-democracy demonstrations witnessed by the country in recent years, the new reforms are feared to weaken Israel’s democracy, an argument rejected by Netanyahu’s government, even though President Isaac Herzog has warned of “constitutional and social collapse.”

US President Joe Biden has also delivered a rare, unambiguous message to Netanyahu: “The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary. Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.”

The script 

Israel has no Constitution and the functions of Israel’s higher judiciary are listed in Basic Laws: The Judiciary. 

Netanyahu’s ultranationalist, far-right coalition government has brought a bill in the Knesset to amend the law on Judicial Selection Committee (JSC) which critics believe will undermine Israel’s democracy. 

The bill, which proposes amendments for the first time to Israel’s laws since its founding, has passed the committee vote already and it is set to face the first reading in the Knesset on either Wednesday or next Monday. 

Under the new bill, the government will get a majority on the JSC while making the quasi-constitutional Basic Laws immune from judicial oversight. In other words, the bills approved by the Knesset will automatically become law, even if the judiciary or activists might not approve of them. 

Explain more, please

Once the committee vote is approved, the bill is brought to the Knesset for the first reading, which will happen this or next week. After the first reading and a vote, it will be sent to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee which has formulated the bill. 

The Committee will again send the bill to the Knesset for second and third readings before it is formally passed into law. 

Despite President Herzog’s warning, the Committee chief Yulia Malinovsky has said that the government has no plan of deferring the bill, though the government has indicated that it was open for deliberations. 

It is only the first part of a series of judicial reforms proposed by Netanyahu’s government. 

What are other proposed changes? 

The government has worked out another set of judicial reforms which proposes restricting the High Court’s power to review legislations while empowering the Knesset to override the court’s decisions, were the court to strike down any legislation approved by it.

The reforms also propose making legislations immune from judicial review at the beginning of the legislative process and bar the court from reviewing decisions of the government and its agencies. Once the legislations are passed, Israel’s courts will lose the power of oversight on Parliamentary processes. 

What drove the changes? 

Supporters of Netanyahu believe that the country’s higher judiciary has arrogated to itself powers which were never granted to it and have not got the approval of the country’s lawmakers or the public. Repeated “interferences” by the government in the country’s policy haven’t gone down well with the ruling coalition. 

For example, there is no bar on lawmakers from being appointed to ministerial positions in Israel. But the country’s Supreme Court last month invalidated the appointment of Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas party in Netanyahu’s far-right coalition, who has been convicted in criminal cases and tax offences.  

Why is it big?

The proposed reforms will effect fundamental changes in Israel’s democracy with the detractors terming it as a legal coup by Netanyahu which will put his country in the league of nations such as Russia and Turkey led by autocrats. 

In the process, critics believe that Netanyahu might also use the so-called reforms to save himself from an ongoing corruption trial against him.

A poll has suggested that more than 60 per cent of Israelis want the government to halt or delay the proposed reforms till a larger consensus is reached. Given the scale of protests that have been taking place in the country in recent days, there are fears that the proposed legislation may spark civil strife in the country.

If the bill turns into law, it might also damage Israel’s relationship with the US, as Biden noted in his message, and other democratic countries.