Israel’s parliament adopted in a first reading a controversial bill that would limit court powers, in a new offensive to push ahead with a judicial overhaul that has split the nation.
The changes, proposed by the hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have sparked one of the country’s biggest ever protest movements since their announcement in January.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in weekly rallies, demanding a halt to the planned overhaul of Israel’s justice system.
Following stiff opposition and growing international criticism — including from US President Joe Biden — Netanyahu ordered what he called a pause in March to allow for talks on the proposals.
But with Israel’s two main opposition leaders, Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, pulling out of negotiations, Netanyahu has now made a new attempt to pass the legislation in parliament.
After a stormy parliament session, the bill was adopted in its first reading by 64 votes to 56.
Ahead of the debate, some protesters entered the Knesset building and had to be dragged out, and hundreds more demonstrated outside.
The vote was the first reading of a bill aimed at excluding the judiciary’s right to rule on the “reasonableness” of government decisions.
One of its potential effects would be on the appointment of ministers.
– Protests –
Netanyahu in January was forced to dismiss cabinet member Aryeh Deri, of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish party Shas, after intervention by the Supreme Court, including on the ground of “reasonableness”, over a previous tax evasion conviction.
Other reform proposals would give the government a greater say in the appointment of judges.
The administration of Netanyahu, who returned to power in December at the head of a coalition with ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right allies, argues that the revamp is necessary to ensure a better balance of power.
But critics have accused Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, of trying to use the overhaul to quash possible judgements against him. Netanyahu denies the charges and rejects any link between the judicial changes and his own case.
Opponents more generally regard the proposals as a threat to Israeli democracy.
Demonstrators vowed to press on and called for mass protests on Tuesday if the vote on the first reading of the “reasonableness” bill passed.
A poll released Sunday by Israel’s public Kan television channel showed 31 percent of Israelis were in favour of the change, while 43 percent opposed it.
In a June interview with The Wall Street Journal, Netanyahu said he would continue with the reforms but without a clause that curbs the Supreme Court’s powers.
“I already changed a few things right after the original proposal was put forward,” the premier said in the interview.
“I said that the idea of an override clause where the parliament, the Knesset, can override the decisions of the Supreme Court with a simple majority, I said, I threw that out.”
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