by Ron Kampeas
(JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition advanced a second major piece of its proposed court reform, holding an initial vote in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on a measure that would allow the government to all but eliminate judicial review.
It also advanced a bill that would prohibit the Supreme Court to disqualify government ministers from serving. The bill was proposed after the Supreme Court ruled that Aryeh Deri, head of the Sephardi haredi Orthodox Shas Party, could not serve as a minister due to repeated criminal convictions. A third bill that advanced past an initial vote would prohibit Israeli hospitals from serving leavened products, called hametz, during Passover.
The bill targeting judicial review passed in the initial reading on February 22 by a vote of 62-51. It now heads back to committee before returning to the Knesset floor for second and third votes, which would enshrine it as law. One day earlier, the Knesset advanced another piece of the court reform, giving the governing coalition full control over Supreme Court appointments and restricting the court’s ability to rule on some laws.
The judicial review bill approved Feb. 22 would allow the Knesset to add a preemptive clause to nearly every bill prohibiting the Supreme Court from striking it down once it becomes law. Bills without the clause could be struck down by the Supreme Court only with a unanimous vote.
The Supreme Court has in the past nixed laws that diminish the rights of minorities, including Arabs, the LGBTQ minority, and non-Orthodox Jews. Opponents of the legislation say it will allow the right-wing government to downgrade civil rights protections.
The vote took place after raucous exchanges in the Knesset, and comes amid mass protests of the reform across Israel, and growing alarm among observers over the plan’s potential harm to Israel’s democratic system. On Feb 21 a major North American Jewish umbrella group came out against the elimination of judicial review, with its leaders warning that “concentration of power is a cause of great concern.”
Yair Levin, the justice minister, repeated offers to negotiate the content of the new laws. The opposition parties want Netanyahu to suspend the advancement of the legislation before negotiations begin, and are reportedly considering a plan to resign en masse in protest.
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