Claims that newly installed Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s planned judicial reforms will mean the “end of democracy” are “without foundation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday in opening remarks at the weekly cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu’s remarks came in response to the outraged accusations by retired Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, 87, broadcast this weekend over three separate Israeli television channels for emphasis.
“Minister Levin collected all the bad proposals amassed over the years and connected them into some kind of chain that is strangling Israeli democracy, and the result, the product obtained as a result, is the abolition of judicial review in Israel. You have no greater evil than this as a constitutional revolution,” Barak claimed.
The hysteria expressed by the retired Supreme Court president was a response to the perceived threat presented by Levin when he announced from the Knesset podium last Wednesday evening, “Time after time, people we didn’t choose make decisions for us – this is not democracy.”
Levin’s plan to reform the judiciary includes four elements:
- A change in the composition of the committee to select judges that will no longer allow judges to choose themselves but rather will be comprised of representatives of all three branches of government, with an advantage to elected officials as is seen in the United States.
- The court will no longer be able to question the basic laws, which are Israel’s equivalent to a constitution. To revoke a law, the court will have to convene all 15 justices and reach a special majority. The Knesset, for its part, can override the court’s revoking of its laws by a majority of 61 MKs.
- The High Court may no longer use the “unreasonable cause” argument to invalidate government action. From now on, if it’s legal, it’s legal.
- Finally, legal counselors embedded in the government ministries will not be able to mandate or prevent action, but rather will be restricted to offering legal advice and recommendations.
Netanyahu maintained in his remarks on Sunday that the reforms are necessary, and emphasized he is not the first to say so.
“Until recently, many people from all parts of the political spectrum have recognized the need to restore the balance between the three authorities,” he said.
“’There has been a hostile takeover by the proponents of judicial activism over political discourse and the decision-making world in Israel.’ There are not my words but those of Yair Lapid, when he was Finance Minister, in 2014,” Netanyahu pointed out.
“’The balance between the authorities needs to include the override clause. The last word needs to be that of the Knesset because the Knesset represents the people.’ These are also not my words but those of the previous Justice Minister, Gideon Saar, also from 2014,” he went on.
“The truth is that the balance between the authorities in the governing system has been violated in the past two decades, especially in recent years. This is an exceptional phenomenon without peer in the democratic world – neither in the US, nor Western Europe nor in Israel, in its first 50 years.
“The effort to restore the correct balance between the authorities is not the destruction of democracy but the strengthening of democracy. However, there is no doubt that this needs to be done responsibly and sagaciously, and this is what we will do,” the prime minister promised.
“The reform presented by the Justice Minister will be discussed seriously and in depth by the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, where all opinions – without exception – will be heard. This is the appropriate, natural and legal forum for this in-depth discussion,” he said.
“I would like to emphasize: We received a clear and strong mandate from the public to carry out what we promised during the elections, and this is what we will do. This is the implementation of the will of the voters, and this is the essence of democracy.”