Explained: What Is Benjamin Netanyahu's Judicial Reform, Which Is Drawing Mass Protests In Israel?
PM Benjamin Netanyahu is facing the heat over the move to enact sweeping changes to Israel's judiciary, which he says is needed to restore balance to the system of government.
New Delhi: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition government is facing the heat over the move to enact sweeping changes to Israel's judiciary. Netanyahu, who says the new law is needed to restore balance to the system of government and which critics see as a threat to democracy, on Sunday (March 26, 2023) sacked his Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for opposing the plans.
The sacking was followed by widespread protests in cities across Israel, with hundreds of thousands flooding the streets.
What Is Benjamin Netanyahu-Led Govt's Problem With Israel's Judiciary And What Does It Want?
Critics of the Israeli Supreme Court, including many in the hard-right coalition government of PM Benjamin Netanyahu, say the bench is left-leaning and elitist and has become too interventionist in the political sphere, while often putting minority rights before national interests.
The incumbent government has been pushing for changes that would limit the Supreme Court's powers to rule against the legislature and the executive, while giving coalition lawmakers more power in appointing judges.
The panel for selecting judges requires politicians and judges who sit on it to agree on appointments. The present proposal would change that, giving coalition governments decisive sway.
Netanyahu, though formally barred from involvement in the initiative because he is on trial for graft charges he denies, has said such changes aim to balance and diversify the bench.
He has also accused the media of misrepresenting the plan and fanning the flames of protest in order to topple his government.
Why Are Israelis Protesting Benjamin Netanyahu's Judicial Reform?
It is notable that Israel's democratic "checks and balances" are relatively fragile. It has no constitution and has only "basic laws" meant to safeguard its democratic foundations. In its one-chamber Knesset, the government controls a majority.
Critics say that the changes will weaken the courts and hand unbridled power to the government, endangering rights and liberties with catastrophic effects for the economy and relations with Western allies, who have already voiced concern.
A judiciary no longer seen as independent could also strip Israel of one of its main defences in international legal cases.
The now-sacked Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday had called on the government to stop the legislation because disputes over the measures threaten Israel's security.
Critics also fear that Netanyahu wants to leverage the judicial push to freeze or void his trial. He, however, has denied having any such plan.
The opposition says Netanyahu's nationalist allies want to weaken the Supreme Court to establish more settlements on land the Palestinians seek for a state.
Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government is aiming for final ratification of the changes to bench selection by April 2, when lawmakers go on spring recess.
Other changes, some of which have been approved at the Knesset's plenum in the first of three readings required for ratification, have been deferred until parliament reconvenes on April 30.
(With agency inputs)