The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a controversial judicial reform package on Monday that significantly restricts the power of the country’s Supreme Court. Despite months of intense mass protests and international condemnation, the measure was approved with a unanimous vote of all 64 members of the governing coalition. The rest of the members abstained in protest after failing to reach a compromise.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms have been the subject of heated debate since he returned to power in December. He claims that these reforms are necessary to restore the balance between the branches of government. However, critics argue that the reforms effectively strip the Supreme Court of its power and undermine the democratic nature of Israel.
The approved measure limits the Supreme Court’s oversight of government actions and curtails its ability to veto decisions and appointments based on “reasonability.” This move has sparked widespread outrage and led to demonstrations outside the parliament building. Protesters staged sit-ins, chained themselves to the gates, and attempted to block roads in an effort to prevent lawmakers from physically attending the vote. Police reportedly used water cannons to disperse the crowds multiple times.
In addition to the protests, the country’s main workers’ union, the Histadrut, is considering a strike, while thousands of reservists with the Israeli Defense Forces have warned that they will not report for duty if the reform is passed.
The international community has also expressed concern over the judicial reform. The administration of US President Joe Biden issued a rare public critique of Israel, urging the government to work towards a compromise instead of rushing through the divisive legislation.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid condemned the results of the vote, calling the current government “the most irresponsible in the history of Israel.” He was briefed by Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, about the potential for widespread unrest if a compromise is not reached. IDF officials also briefed Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and his predecessor Benny Gantz about the national security implications of a large number of reservists refusing to fight.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu, who recently underwent heart surgery and was discharged from the hospital on Monday, is expected to meet with the IDF chief of staff to discuss the situation.
The passing of the judicial reform package marks a significant shift in the power dynamics of Israeli governance. With the Supreme Court’s authority curtailed, concerns are growing over the erosion of democratic values in the country. As protests continue and the international community voices its disapproval, it remains to be seen how this issue will shape the future of Israeli democracy.