Major battle over top Israeli court looms


The new Knesset will be a battle-ground over the future and independence of Israel's Supreme Court.

The appointment of Habayit Hayehudi MK Ayelet Shaked - an outspoken critic of the court's powers to scrutinise and disqualify legislation - as the new justice minister will add extra impetus to the campaign to limit its powers.

As part of the coalition negotiations between Likud and its coalition partners over the past six weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to get all the parties in the new government to commit to supporting two amendments.

One, the "overriding clause", will make it much more difficult for the Supreme Court to rule that a law passed by the Knesset is unconstitutional. First, it will require the majority of a minimum of eight Supreme Court justices for such a ruling. And second, once a law is disqualified, the Knesset will be able to vote on it again, making it immune to judicial intervention.

The other amendment will change the membership of the Judicial Appointments Committee, adding two politicians to the current nine-person panel, five of whom are judges and lawyers.

New justice minister Shaked is major critic of Supreme Court

This will give the politicians a majority in the process of selecting the future Supreme Court bench and will end the current situation whereby judges have an effective veto on new candidates.

Two recent rulings by the Supreme Court have made the parties making up the coalition especially determined to reduce its power. The religious parties, which have received assurances that the national service law will not criminalise yeshivah students who refuse to serve in the IDF, are anxious to prevent the court ruling once again that the exemption from enlistment is a form of discrimination against non-Charedim.

The right-wing parties have been trying to push through the Knesset an "infiltrators law" which will allow greater freedom to imprison African migrants, but the court has twice ruled that prolonged detention without trial is unconstitutional.

But while most of the coalition parties are in favour of cutting the Supreme Court down to size, the amendments are by no means assured a majority in the Knesset. Kulanu, the second-largest party in the coalition, has refused to support them and retains the right to veto such legislation within the government. Mr Netanyahu has said that he is determined to pass the amendments, particularly the "overriding clause".

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