GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 717, 27 July 2023

Protests over Judicial Reforms in Israel
Sandra D Costa

In the News
On 24 July, the “reasonableness” bill was passed securing 64-0 votes at the Knesset. Following the parliament’s ratification of the bill, Netanyahu acknowledged the same as a “necessary democratic step.” The opposition party, Yesh Atid, stormed out of the parliament chanting “shame,” after boycotting the voting. On 25 July, Reuters quoted opposition leader Yair Lapid commenting: "This government can win the battle, but not the war."

The White House responded to the bill restricting the powers of the Supreme Court as “unfortunate,” calling for “consensus.” The US Press Secretary stated: “As a lifelong friend of Israel, President Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that major democratic changes to be enduring must have as broad a consensus as possible.”

The same day, protests ensued. Thousands of people marched from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem to demonstrate their opposition to the bill. Al Jazeera reported clashes between police and demonstrators in several towns. On 25 July, BBC reported that at least 24 protesters were arrested. 

Issues at large
First, the long standing protests against judicial reforms. The protests began on 7 January when Justice Minister Yariv Lenin’s announced the draft judicial reform bill. The bill was formulated to restrict the Supreme Court’s checks and balances role in Israel. Hundreds of protesters belonging to different sections of society, including the labour unions and the Israel Medical Association, have been protesting against the bill across Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. The anti-government protestors claim that the bill puts Israel’s democracy and the rule of law at stake. Beyond the judicial overhaul, the protests are also against possible political and economic impacts of the passing of the bill. that the protestors suspect that Netanyahu would take advantage of the bill to override the trials over corruption charges. 

Second, controversial judicial reforms. According to the new judicial reform, the Knesset will have the upper hand to override the judgments by the Supreme Court by receiving a majority of 61 votes out of 120 in the Knesset. It is believed, that this bill will give the government leverage to be involved more freely in corruption, human rights violations and further introduction of far-right policies. It will also lead to convenient appointments of judges in the Supreme Court. Additionally, the government can change the polarization and partisan issues within the Knesset. Besides, they can control the police and financial institutions. 

Third, the government’s response. In March, Netanyahu initially recalled the new judicial reforms following unprecedented general strikes that shut down transportation, Universities, restaurants and retailers which began to impact Israel’s economy. However, he did not completely give up; instead, he delayed it until another Knesset session. Since then, there have been widespread protests across the country. 

Fourth, the international response. The EU rooted for an inclusive process and voiced out that they are observing "closely and with concern.” The Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the Zionist Federation of Australia issued statements expressing their concerns with the bill. The UK had also raised its apprehensions over the bill. The US has been vary of distressing relations with Netanyahu. 

In perspective
First, the dangers ahead for Israel. A democracy is steady when there is separation of powers; executive, legislative and judiciary. With a constitutional crisis, Netanyahu and his far-right government is likely to take an authoritarian route devoid of democratic checks and balances. 

Second, the return of political instability. Israel has been going through political instability, followed by repeated elections during the past two years. Since the beginning of 2023, there has been a lull in political instability in the country. However, the new judicial reform is likely to trigger the emergence of a new series of political instability. 

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