The chief justice of Israel’s Supreme Court attacked the sweeping changes to the country’s justice system planned by the new conservative government on Thursday, lending her voice to a growing outcry against the proposed overhaul.
Source: Associated Press
Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut fired off unusually sharp rhetoric at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new justice minister, Yariv Levin, saying his proposed changes would amount to an “unbridled attack on the justice system.”
“Israel will soon mark 75 years of independence as a Jewish and democratic state. That is an important milestone in the life of the state,” Hayut told a convention for the Israeli Association of Public Law. “Unfortunately, if the plan for change that has been presented is carried out, the 75th year will be remembered as the year in which Israel’s democratic identity suffered a fatal blow.”
Hayut said that independence is the “soul of the courts” and without it, judges won’t be able to fulfill their roles as servants of the public.
She took aim at a proposal that would allow the parliament to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority. For decades in Israel, the judiciary has played a key role safeguarding minority rights and offsetting rule by the parliamentary majority.
“It is about overriding the human rights of each and every individual in Israeli society,” Israeli media quoted Hayut as saying.
The announced judicial changes have spurred a surge of resistance. Seven former attorneys general who have served in the post throughout the last five decades also spoke out against the overhaul on Thursday, signing a letter of protest along with four senior legal officials.
Three of the seven were appointed under Netanyahu’s previous terms in office. The letter, published in Israeli media, denounced the proposed changes, saying they are destructive to the country’s legal system.
“We call on the government to withdraw the proposed plan and prevent the serious harm to the justice system and the rule of law,” the letter said.
The former officials said the changes would turn the Supreme Court, often the last recourse for Israelis and Palestinians seeking to challenge what they see as discriminatory policies, into a “pseudo-political body that would be suspected of bending the law in favor of the government.”
Israel’s new government has made overhauling the country’s legal system a centerpiece of its agenda. It wants to weaken the Supreme Court, including by politicizing the appointment of judges and reducing the independence of government legal advisors.
The legal changes could help Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, evade conviction, or even make his trial disappear entirely. Since being indicted in 2019, Netanyahu has railed publicly against the justice system, calling it biased against him. He says the legal overhaul will be carried out responsibly.
The plan has prompted an uproar over what critics say is a major threat to Israel’s democratic fundamentals. The country’s current attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, has already fiercely criticized the proposed changes and a protest against them last week drew thousands.
Alan Dershowitz, a U.S. lawyer and staunch Israel defender, has also come out against the plan, saying were he in Israel, he would be joining the demonstrations.
Critics accuse the government of declaring war against the legal system, saying the plan will upend Israel’s system of checks and balances and undermine its democratic institutions by giving absolute power to the most right-wing coalition in the country’s history. The government says the overhaul is a necessary step to streamline governance and correct an imbalance that has granted the legal system too much sway.