Far-right Govt Plan to Limit Judicial Powers Sharply Criticized

Civil liberties and human rights advocates have expressed grave concerns about a plan by Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right Israeli government to limit the power of the judiciary, saying it will encourage authoritarianism and put minority rights in imminent danger. The plan, which has yet to be written into law, also increases the influence of politicians and the government in selecting the court’s members, and enables cabinet members to appoint their own legal advisers in place of the civil service professionals who currently can thwart initiatives deemed problematic.

A demonstration against the far-right government in front of the High Court in Jerusalem during the petition against Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri, Thursday morning, January 5, 2022 (Photo: Tzav 8 for Democracy)

These reforms were designed to influence legal proceedings against anyone in the new government, including petitions against Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri in the High Court held on Thursday morning and Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial. Racist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich released a video message “blessing the restart to the judicial system” and insisting that the pledge to overhaul the judicial system was the most critical issue in the recent general election.

“If these steps are carried out, we will have in Israel a change of governance from a partial democracy to outright authoritarian rule,” warned the journalist Gidi Weitz in Haaretz. Leading Hadash activist, Dr. Yousef Jabareen, who teaches human rights law at Haifa University and is a former lawmaker, told The Guardian that while Arab-Palestinians in Israel have been disappointed by the supreme court, which itself leans hard right, “we still believe it is important to have judicial review especially with this extreme-right government.”

He predicted the plan would “give the government a free hand for deepening and widening discrimination against the Arab community,” including making investments whose sole aim is to settle Jews in regions of the country heavily populated by Arabs. “Levin’s plan is a serious threat, it’s not just a declaration,” Jabareen said.

Noa Sattath, director-general of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), said she considered each step in the plan “devastating.” Sattath said that by removing judicial oversight the plan could lead to curtailment of freedom to protest, harm the political representation of Israel’s Arab minority, heighten discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, lead to indefinite detention of asylum seekers and facilitate the permanent annexation of the occupied West Bank. “This is definitely an attempt to transform the democratic sphere in Israel and shrink it dramatically. Israeli democracy is weak in that there are no rights for Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian Territories and our democratic culture is very weak. This dramatically reduces that further.”

Israel is moving in a “very dangerous direction,” Hadash Knesset member Ofer Cassif told Al Jazeera from a protest outside parliament, adding that the arrival of a new government would mark Israel as a “full-fledged fascist state.” “The international community must be aware of this and act accordingly,” Cassif added.

According Channel 12, Netanyahu is reportedly seeking to fire all public servants appointed by the previous government in order to ensure that only his loyalists remain. The premier’s aides are putting together a list of all those brought on by former prime ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid over the past year and a half, Channel 12 reported on Thursday.

Those in the crosshairs are not political appointees who traditionally resign in the handover process that took place last week, if not before. Instead, it is professional appointments made by the previous governments whose jobs are at risk, the report said.

Related: https://maki.org.il/en/?p=30755