The System of Judicial Review in Israel:
After the end of the Ottoman Empire, the world witnessed the longest conflict in History – “The Israel-Palestine Conflict” that resulted in the loss of lives and led to hatred among people.
But recently, a new judicial reform was introduced that sparked a large protest in the State of Israel. This all started on 11th January 2023 when Israel’s Justice Minister Yariv Levin published draft bills limiting the powers of the Supreme Court.
In India, we have two houses of parliament so we call it a bicameral structure. But in Israel, there’s only one house of Parliament -“Knesset”. Hence it’s a unicameral structure. The Knesset consist of 120 members that are elected by the citizens.
These elected members are referred to as “Members of Knesset “. The concept is clear that the party that will secure 61 or more seats out of 120 will form the government. But here are some noticeable facts, there is no single party that formed a clear majority in the history of Israelian politics. Israel has always witnessed a collation government.
This has resulted in no or very less “separation of power’’ between legislature and executive. For a democracy to work it is important that all four “pillars of democracy – legislature, judiciary, executive and media” need to be independent of one another.
Israel also does not have a constitution, instead, it has “13 basic laws” that were previously supposed to be the basic framework on which they were supposed to form a constitution but it never really happened. The Supreme Court of Israel has the right to abolish any law that may hinder these “13 Basic laws” Such power is called the “Power of Judicial Review”. But the judicial review does not come as easy, as it sounds, The Supreme Court needs to prove that, the law, that needs to be abolished does hinder the “13 basic laws”.
New Amendment – “The Judicial Overhaul”:
The new amendments that the Israel government bring in are called “Judicial Overhaul” all these amendments proposed were as followed:-
The first is giving the parliament the authority to Veto Supreme Court’s decision. That means any decision by Supreme Count could be vetoed if the majority of Members of the Knesset vote against it.
Secondly, the President and Vice President of the Supreme Court will now be appointed by the Parliament. Also, the government will appoint judges in the courts and they can even appoint someone who has not even served in lower courts as a judge.
Right now, the judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by a Judicial Election Committee and which consists of nine members. But as per the new amendment, the committee. will have eleven members – three government ministers including the Justice minister, three members of the Knesset from which two people will be appointed by the government, and two public representatives who would be appointed by the Justice Minister.
The remaining three members will be the Chief Justice and high court judge and a member of the Knesset from the opposition party. The majority of the committee would be appointed by the government. As the majority of members are appointed directly or indirectly by the government that indicates that the government will have control over the appointment of the judiciary.
The third amendment says the right of the Supreme Court to reverse the government’s decision that goes against the “13 Basic laws” would only be valid when all fifteen judges bench will be present and in agreement over the matter.
Even after this, the legislature will have the right to overturn the decision by passing a new law. This is the only reason that ex-justice Rubinstein warns that governments plans will create a “democratic dictatorship”
The former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak claims, “these new reforms are poison pills” that would mark the ” beginning of the end” for Israel. So, why Israeli government would want to do this? In 1993, Israel’s Supreme Court gave a very famous verdict in which the then PM Yitzhak Rabin was forced to remove Aryeh Deri, the Interior Minister. Aryeh Deni comes from the extreme right-wing, Shas Party. He was accused of bribery and corruption. He
was sent to jail for three years but was released early because of good behaviour. He re-entered politics in 2011. In January 2022, he was found guilty of tax evasion but still, he was nominated for the November elections. His party won and this time he became Interior Minister and Health Minister. The draft for the new amendment was passed on 11 January 2023.
A week before this, Levin announced that something big is going to happen in Israel. The same week, the next day after the announcement was made, SC was scheduled to hear three petitions and one was for the cancellation of Aryeh Deni’s ministerial appointment. Later on, on 18th January 2013, the SC decided to cancel his appointment as he was found guilty in a bribery and corruption case.
The government fears that the other ministers who are guilty of such criminal offences might be removed from their posts by SC and this will lead to the fall of the current government.
The current coalition government has 64 seats out of 120. It is also believed that the current government is the most extreme-right win government in Israel’s history. The former PM of Israel, Yesh Atid Yair Lapid condemns the justice system reforms calling the leading party “a gang of criminals”.
People’s response to the issue:
As soon as the news broke down, the people took to the streets of Israel, marking the largest protest in history. Airports got shut down as people refused to work. Trade union calls for a strike. Israel Medical Association calls for a full strike in the healthcare system. Even, Israel’s Embassies around the world participated in the protest including that India. Isaac Herzog, the President of Israel tweeted,“
For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of the responsibility, I call on you to stop the legislative process immediately.” Recently, a Jewish translator refused to translate for the current PM of Israel on his trip to Italy, to support the people of Israel.
PM Netanyahu was advised by Yoav Gallant, the Defense Minister, to call off the new laws, but he was fired from his post. This led to nearly 650,000 people (that is nearly 7% of the total population of Israel) taking the streets by storm to protest against the new laws.
As the Chief Justice of India says; “ the independence of the judiciary is a cardinal value and you have to insulate the judiciary from outside influence if the judiciary has to, truly, be independent.” – Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud
According to John Locke’s Theory, individuals have the right to resist the state and revolt against it if the latter fails to discharge its basic duty of safeguarding the life, liberty and property of the individual. Montesquieu on other hand propounded the theory of “separation of power”, and provided a sufficient safeguard against the growth of dictatorship.
These ideas sum up the basic features of democracy very well and have been the benchmark of the functioning of the state. Hence, it becomes a matter of human rights, socio-political rights and fundamental rights when the state starts to interfere in the work of the judiciary.
It is not new in the game of power play. Previously, such efforts were made by the government of Hungry, Turkey, Philippians, Brazil and so on. The good news is that there are people who are fighting for democracy and such people are the barriers to authoritative governance democracy still stands high because of such people.
● https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-01-11/ty-article/.premium/in-first-judicial reforms-draft-knesset-given-free-rein-over-constitutional-amendments/00000185-a1c 8-d8a9-afb5-f7cf7a660000
● https://www.timesofisrael.com/ex-top-judge-barak-put-me-before-a-firing-squad-if-itl l-stop-move-to-tyranny/
● https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-01-08/ty-article/.premium/plan-for-judicial -overhaul-is-a-clear-danger-to-israeli-democracy-ex-chief-justice-says/00000185-901 2-d94b-ad8d-bef736930000
● https://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/18/world/israeli-politician-convicted-of-corruption .html
● https://www.timesofisrael.com/aryeh-deri-admits-to-tax-offenses-as-part-of-plea-deal will-resign-from-knesset/
● https://www.timesofisrael.com/under-threat-high-court-to-hear-petitions-against-deris -ministerial-appointment/